Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 5 September 2015

Hezbollah takes fight to anti-Assad rebels as Syria’s war spills into Lebanon

BY ALISTAIR DAWBER IN JERUSALEM

Published 20/05/2013

Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian soldiers prepare an anti-aircraft gun near field of wheat close to a radar position in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa valley (AP)
A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he prepares himself for advance, close to a military base, near Azaz (AP)
This citizen journalism image shows members of the free Syrian Army hiding behind scrap metal during an attack against Syrian government forces (AP Photo)
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon at government forces during clashes in Aleppo (AP)
A Syrian soldier aims fire at rebels in Damscus (AP)
Syrian rebels have declared the airport in Damascus a legitimate target (AP)
Rebel fighters in Syria run for cover through smoke from an explosion (AP)
Syrian refugees in a border camp (AP)
Syrian rebles watch a missile strike near Aleppo (AP)
Free Syrian Army members fighting in the city of Aleppo (AP)
Syrian rebels on the attack in Aleppo (AP)
Trucks pass a mountain of garbage in Aleppo, where there has been heavy fighting and shelling between the Syrian Government and rebels (AP)
The damage caused by an explosion at the Syrian interior ministry in Damascus (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighter puts up a FSA flag after heavy clashes at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer (AP)
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover in Azaz (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighters walk amid the ruins of a village (AP)
Syrian rebels gather around a fire in Aleppo (AP)
Rebels and troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have fought at two air bases in northern Syria (AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians inspecting a damaged car at the scene of a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians inspecting a damaged car at the scene of a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013
A video image shows an explosion during heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in the Barzeh district of Damascus (AP)
An Assad supporter holds up a picture of the president (AP)
A Syrian woman sits on the ruins of her house following an air strike in Aleppo (AP)
Muddy boots belonging to Syrian refugees are seen at the entrance of a tent in a refugee camp near Azaz, north of Aleppo province, Syria (AP)
A woman walks through the mud in a refugee camp in Syria (AP)
A Syrian villager, Abu Ibrahim, 73, writes the name of his granddaughter on her grave after she was killed in an airstrike by the government (AP)
Flames and smoke rising from burned cars after a huge explosion that shook central Damascus (AP/SANA)
A Syrian woman stands amid the ruins of her house
The UN's peace envoy to Syria has warned there is 'no end in sight' to the civil war (AP)
Smoke rises from burned cars after a huge explosion shook Sabaa Bahrat Square in Damascus, Syria (AP/SANA)

Hezbollah launched a major offensive in support of the Assad regime yesterday, with fighters from the Lebanese militant group playing their most significant role yet in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.

Opposition activists claim Hezbollah fighters, who were supporting regular Syrian troops, stormed the rebel-held town of Qusair, only six miles from the Lebanese border. They fired multiple mortar rounds and launched rocket-propelled grenades in an attack that witnesses say killed at least 32 people.

An opposition activist, Hadi Abdallah, told the Reuters news agency that Syrian warplanes had bombed Qusair in the morning, while artillery shells were hitting the town at a rate of up to 50 a minute.

 

“The army is hitting Qusair with tanks and artillery from the north and east while Hezbollah is firing mortar rounds and multiple rocket launchers from the south and west,” he said. “Most of the dead are civilians killed by the shelling.” Qusair is a strategically important town because it allows those holding it to control the coastal road. Its proximity to the Lebanese border also allows the regular Syrian army to link directly with Hezbollah. Reports suggest the town has been besieged by Syrian troops for weeks.

 

Syrian television said the army was “leading an operation against terrorists in Qusair”, with troops reaching the town’s centre.

 

“Our heroic forces are advancing toward Qusair and are chasing the remnants of the terrorists and have hoisted the Syrian flag on the  municipality building,” the report said. “In the next few hours we will give you joyous news.” Reports suggested that as many as eight Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the operation.

 

The group’s ever greater role in supporting the Assad regime will be worrying news in Israel.

 

Benjamin Netanyahu used a cabinet meeting to warn that Israel is prepared to launch further raids against Syria if it believes the desperate civil war on its northern border threatens to spill over. Israel and Hezbollah fought a six-week-long war in 2006.

 

Although not formally acknowledged by the Israeli government, the Jewish state launched at least three attacks on sites near Damascus two weeks ago. Mr Netanyahu’s administration has consistently said that it will act to prevent groups such as Hezbollah getting their hands on the advanced weapons known to be held by the Syrians and turning them on Israeli cities.

 

Speaking at the meeting of his senior ministers, the Israeli leader, said: “[The Middle East] is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria at its centre. We are closely monitoring the developments and changes there and are prepared for any scenario. The government of Israel is working responsibly and with determination and sagacity, in order to ensure the supreme interest of the State of Israel ... [to] prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and to [other] terrorist elements.”

 

Mr Netanyahu’s comments came as Russia deployed 12 warships to the Mediterranean, in a move that has been interpreted as an aggressive act meant as a warning to Israel and Western countries against any further military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

 

Russia maintains a naval base in Syria at Tartus and has provided weaponry to the Assad regime. The deployment of warships comes days after Russia said it would supply Syria with a number of Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, which have a range of 200 miles.

 

 

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