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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Hezbollah training Shiite fighters in Syria - Source

Hezbollah training Shiite fighters in Syria - Source
10/01/2013 By Asharq Al-Awsat
http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=1&id=32500

Beirut/London, Asharq Al-Awsat - Syrian Shiite sources confirmed to Asharq
Al Awsat that Hezbollah and Iran are intervening in the Syrian crisis in
order to “protect” Shiite towns, villages and religious shrines against the
“Takfirists”. The sources revealed the presence of “Hezbollah training
centers in the Beqaa valley to train up young Syrian Shiites, paying them
salaries to fight in Syria”. Syrian opposition figures confirmed that there
are roughly 1,500 Hezbollah elements in Syria, and the same number of
Iranians assisting the Syrian regime, but said that the talk of 5,000
elements is an exaggeration.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, and its transformation into a
military struggle, there has been increasing talk of Hezbollah participating
in the fight alongside the Syrian regime. There is a sense of a strategic
interdependence between Hezbollah and the al-Assad regime, the latter of
which is a vital artery that connects Iranian aid (of all kinds) to the
movement in Lebanon. Despite the fact that Lebanese politicians talk about
Hezbollah’s refusal to comply with the Syrian regime’s desire to ignite the
Lebanese arena in order to relieve the pressure on al-Assad, these same
politicians have criticized Hezbollah’s involvement in supporting the regime
at the expense of the people. Meanwhile, there is hardly a statement from
the leaders of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] that doesn’t reference Hezbollah’s
support and organized participation in “the killing of the Syrian people”.

Retired General Nizar Abdel-Kader, a Lebanese strategic expert, believes
that Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian conflict is no longer a secret.
He pointed out that despite the information that was circulated months ago
on this matter, doubts remained until Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan
Nasrallah admitted his movement's involvement, attributing it to the
demographic and geographical overlap in the border areas between Lebanon and
Syria in the north of Beqaa and Homs Governorate. Abdel-Kader told Asharq Al
Awsat: “We cannot accept that Nasrallah’s reasoning is that simple, because,
as we know, Hezbollah was supportive of all the other Arab revolutions but
denies the validity of the Syrian revolution because of the movement's
association with the Syrian regime, which in turn supports it with arms and
offers Syria’s strategic depth for its war with Israel”.

He went on to say: “I think that, in light of President al-Assad’s
insistence on pursuing the military option, and hence doing everything he
can to stay in power, it is natural that Hezbollah would become increasingly
involved in the battle, on the side of its ally, and it is to be expected
that its operations would eventually take on a public nature and it would
undertake some missions to protect the regime in the Syrian capital”.
Abdel-Kader fears that Hezbollah is undertaking some of its operations
against Syrian dissidents located in Lebanon, describing what Hezbollah is
doing today as “a dangerous card to play”, but adding that it was inevitable
that it would be played in the end.

It is not easy to talk with Hezbollah officials on the subject of their
party’s logistical intervention in the Syrian crisis. Hezbollah, which
initially described such allegations as “laughable”, now strictly adheres to
the official rhetoric issued by Nasrallah, who said that the Lebanese
fighting in Syria live there and are simply defending their villages.

However “al-Hajj”, a Hezbollah official in Beqaa, said that the movement is
also defending Lebanese territory, i.e. the “Lebanese part” of the Syrian
border town al-Qusayr. “Al-Hajj”, who asked to be referred only by this
name, said that a section of this town is located on Lebanese soil and is
being subjected to attacks from the Syrian opposition. He added that
Hezbollah “monitoring officials” were able to record a conversation between
armed opposition members planning to attack the town and kill its residents,
“so they ambushed them and inflicted great losses, whilst one of our men
died defending the area”. He explained that the situation in that area has
now turned into something resembling a fault line between the two sides.

The Syrian crisis is of great concern to Hezbollah, but “al-Hajj” confirmed
that his party is relaxed about the future. He reasoned that if the regime
emerges victorious the situation will return to how it was before, and if it
falls this is a sign of the return of the Imam al-Mahdi [a sign of the
world's ending according to Islamic eschatology].

A Lebanese opposition official also confirmed that Hezbollah is interfering
in the Syrian war, pointing out that information available to him indicates
that the group is seeking to prevent the movement of opposition figures in
both directions, through its monitoring of part of the Syrian-Lebanese
border. This explains the decline in Syrian opposition activity in that
region. He asserted that Hezbollah artillery and rocket launchers stationed
on Lebanese territory are playing an active role in the battle, whilst
Syrian opposition figures have spoken about bombardments coming from
Lebanese territory, particularly the village of Zata (with its predominantly
Shiite population) and al-Qusayr.

Meanwhile, military experts doubt the possibility of Hezbollah openly
engaging in battle alongside the regime, but they do not hide their
suspicions about the Lebanese movement offering “technical assistance”. They
suggest that Hezbollah is participating behind the scenes, in the battle
operation rooms, and its officials are moving in significant numbers across
the border.

Syrian Shiites have also confirmed new information to Asharq Al Awsat
regarding the presence of Hezbollah in Shiite-inhabited areas of Syria, in
addition to the party’s clear contribution to the protection of the famous
Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in the suburbs of Damascus. Furthermore, the Syrian
opposition have recently distributed images of a car with a Lebanese number
plate and a poster affixed to it; the poster depicts a young man above the
following words: "died in defense of the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine”. The
opposition claim this image was taken in the southern suburbs of the city of
Beirut, an area under the influence of Hezbollah.

Fahad al-Masri, an FSA official spokesman, told Asharq Al Awsat that
“approximately two weeks ago, Hezbollah sent dozens of its elements to Mount
Qalamoun”. He also pointed out that Hezbollah operatives are being deployed
mainly in Zabadani and Homs, and specifically in the Christian town of Dabla
alongside the regime’s Shabiha forces. He indicated that the coming days
will witness multiple battles between Hezbollah and the FSA in these areas.

Al-Masri considers the recent reports of 5,000 Hezbollah elements inside
Syria to be an exaggeration, adding that Hezbollah presence in the capital
Damascus is limited, confined to specific sites and locations such as
guarding the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine.

Asharq Al Awsat also spoke to a Syrian Shiite named Ahmed. He said that his
brother Abbas, a Syrian from the town of Nubl in Aleppo Governorate, had
joined Hezbollah’s training center in Beqaa along with a number of the town’s
residents, and those from other Shiite towns in the region, in order to
learn how to defend their families. Ahmed revealed that young men are being
transported to Damascus by car and then to Aleppo by plane, following which
they are deployed - via military helicopter - to the towns they are supposed
to defend.

Ahmed, who works in Beirut, defended what these people are doing, stressing
that his brother “is like any other young person in that situation; they are
forced to act because of the Takfirist groups’ attacks on Shiite towns and
villages in Syria”. He added that these men are paid good salaries “to
compensate for the disruption to their lives”, whilst also pointing out that
Iranian experts are also contributing to this effort. Ahmed revealed that
the Iranians are providing money and arms to support the Shiites who are
“threatened by extremist groups”.

There is no accurate information on the number of Shiites in Syria, but a
report drafted by the US State Department on “religious freedom” in 2010
indicated that the Shiites account for roughly 2.5 percent of the Syrian
population, and they are composed of the Twelver, Zaidi and Ismaili sects.
The Ismailis are concentrated in the Hama Governorate and the city of
Salamiyah specifically, whilst the Twelver Shiites are located mainly in
Idlib Province as well as some towns in Homs and Aleppo such as Zahra and
Nubl, which boasts the largest community of Twelver Shiites in Syria, namely
30,000 people. There are also Shiites in Damascus in the districts of
al-Amin, Jura and the old city, in addition to their presence in the
vicinity of the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine.

For his part, a dissident officer told Asharq Al Awsat that there is
confirmed information of Hezbollah elements and Iranian experts being
present in Damascus and living there as experts in the field of media and
security. They are visiting media institutions and the security apparatus
frequently, travelling in SUVs and participating in the planning and
implementation of military operations. The officer, who declined to be
named, reported that when the Houla massacre was committed the regime waited
a whole day before issuing a statement on the matter. Iranian experts
present in the Syrian Ministry of Interior condemned this action and accused
the then Information Minister, Adnan Mahmoud, arguing that he should have
immediately stated that armed gangs were behind the massacre. This
ultimately led to him being replaced by the current minister Imran Zoubi.

Colonel Arif Hamoud, Head of Syrian Martyrdom Operations in the FSA,
confirmed that Hezbollah is actively participating on the battlefields in
Syria. He told Asharq Al Awsat that: “Hezbollah leaders have been tasked
with training elements of the regime and its officers, especially the
special forces and military and air force intelligence. These Syrian forces
are mainly concentrated in the region of al-Draij in Damascus Governorate,
where they are being subjected to training exercises lasting 3 to 4 weeks"
He added that this information has been confirmed by officers who have
recently defected from the regime.

The officer pointed out that the FSA has recently captured some Hezbollah
elements in order to exchange them with some of its members being detained
by the Syrian regime. This happened when Hezbollah Commander “Abu Abbas” was
killed along with 15 other elements two months ago. The officer confirmed
that the FSA is holding another Hezbollah leader, after he was arrested in
the vicinity of Sayyidah Zaynab, which has a strong Hezbollah presence.

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