Hyping Hezbollah’s Role in Syria
By: Rameh Hamieh
Published Friday, February 22, 2013
On Tuesday, 19 February 2013, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) issued a statement accusing Hezbollah of shelling Syrian territory and threatening to “shell and silence the sources of Hezbollah fire in Lebanese territory” if it did not stop within 48 hours.
No sooner had the ultimatum expired did various media outlets broadcast reports that Hezbollah bases in Syria and Lebanon had been targeted, including an artillery position in the border village of Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali.The news spread like wildfire.
Yet in the town of Hermel and the adjoining villages of Qasr and Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali – scenes of the supposed attacks – life continued as normal. The only thing disturbing the peace of local residents was the inundation of phone calls from concerned or curious outsiders.
“There’s nothing happening here,” a local source told Al-Akhbar. “It’s just media propaganda to go with the statements made by the armed groups in Syria. It’s coming from the channels that support them.”
To him, the false reports had a clear political objective. “It’s about covering up what happened in Ersal, and the general impression it left that some of the people there are harboring al-Nusra Front members. In return, they want to give the impression that the Assi Valley villages, whose people have faced killings and displacement, are harboring Hezbollah fighters.”
Official security sources also denied media reports about attacks on Hermel, Qasr, or Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali, including claims that two people had been killed in shelling. They said speculation could have been fuelled by an explosion that occurred around Wednesday at midnight outside a semi-built store in Qasr.
An explosive device with an estimated 300 grams of TNT was detonated, injuring a man who happened to be driving by the location. The sources said the bombing was related to “family disputes.”
The calm in Hermel extended, for the most part, to the Assi Valley villages inside Syria, which have long been inhabited by Lebanese. The area remains tense following recent clashes between villagers affiliated with the local Popular Committees and armed Syrian opposition groups that tried to infiltrate, and presumably take over, the villages of Hammam and Abu-Houri.
On Thursday, a group of FSA fighters attempted to seize control of another village, Saghmaniyeh. According to Abu-Jihad al-Daiqa, spokesperson for the Popular Committees in the Assi Valley villages, the attackers were surprised by the level of preparedness of the villagers, who clashed with them and forced them to retreat.
Daiqa, who is intimately familiar with the locality, told Al-Akhbar that the pattern of recent attacks in the area indicates that Syrian rebels are trying to open up a supply corridor to Lebanon.
“By bringing men and equipment from Joubar and attacking the village of Hammam, the armed groups are only trying to get closer to the village of Zayta, with the aim of occupying it and opening a route to Wadi Khaled in North Lebanon to link it to Qusayr in Syria,” he explained. “They want a route for logistical and military supplies after the closure of the routes around Ersal, where it has become difficult to move.”
Daiqa said the Popular Committees in these Lebanese-inhabited Syrian villages – who he insisted should not be labelled “Shia” as their populations are diverse – were ready to repel further attacks.
In Zayta, Huwait, Hammam, and other Assi Valley villages, the FSA claim to have shelled Hezbollah positions in Lebanon on the pretext that Hezbollah has been fighting them in Syrian villages.
Last Sunday’s clash was not the first of its kind, but it received by far the most media attention. A whole host of Syrian opposition groups and figures issued statements accusing Hezbollah of intervening in Syria, with the Syrian National Council even accusing it of attacking villages in Syria’s Homs governorate.
In Lebanon, Monday’s edition of an-Nahar newspaper carried the frontpage headline “Deeds in Syria Belie Nasrallah’s Words.” The March 14 coalition and other Hezbollah detractors were quick to adopt the Syrian opposition’s account, while the party kept silent. The media offensive intensified, peaking on Thursday with a statement by the so-called FSA Joint Command threatening Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
This was followed by a statement from Future Movement leader Saad al-Hariri, in which he proclaimed his “total rejection of the use of Lebanese territory for any kind of military intervention in the internal affairs of Syria, whether to support the regime or the opposition.”
He went on to ask: “Where does the Lebanese government stand on this? Indeed, where is the policy of disassociation from the use of Lebanese territory in the conflict in Syria? Or does this policy exempt Hezbollah from [not] involving Lebanon in this conflict, and give it an exclusive right to use weapons on the Lebanese-Syrian front? What is Hezbollah doing on the Syrian front? Who gave it a mandate to defend the border, even if it were to stop attacks by Syrian gunmen?”
The party continues to keep silent.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.