The fighting in Syria continues to occupy the top headlines of Arabic-language media on Tuesday, with the UN special envoy to Syria warning of an influx in foreign fighters; and an opposition leader deeming Hezbollah’s involvement “a declaration of war.”
“Ibrahimi speaks of 40,000 foreign fighters in Syria,” reads the top headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, reporting that the EU has lifted a 2011 ban on oil exports from areas in Syria under rebel control.
The daily reports that 70 oil wells are currently controlled by opposition forces; some by the Kurdish National Union — which Al-Hayat says has began to distance itself from the Assad regime — and some by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Oil production in Syria has dropped in recent years from 470,000 to 330,000 barrels a day.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London, leads its Syria coverage with reports that Hezbollah has occupied eight villages in the vicinity of Homs surrounding the Syrian town of Al-Qusayr.
The Syrian National Council, an opposition group, condemned the Lebanese intervention in Syria in a statement issued Monday, calling on the Arab League to consider it “a declaration of war.” The statement also called on the Lebanese government to come to its senses and stop Hezbollah’s advances “before it is too late.”
Free Syrian Army sources told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that 350 Nusra Front fighters have arrived in Al-Qusayr near the Lebanese border over the past two days to engage with Hezbollah and “prepare to thwart any possible attack on the city.”
The daily also reports on the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter in Beirut’s southern suburb on Monday.
‘By evacuating hundreds of thousands of unwanted residents from cities and villages, Assad will have “cleansed” the land to declare his future republic’
Why is the Assad regime exerting so much effort on a marginal agricultural area in western Syria? wonders A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abdul Rahman Rashed. He speculates that Assad has given up hope of regaining control of Syria’s south and east, and is fighting for the remaining third. Assad also likely wishes to safeguard a ground route leading to the coastal area around Latakia, which is predominantly Alawite and loyal to his regime.
“By evacuating hundreds of thousands of unwanted residents from cities and villages, Assad will have ‘cleansed’ the land to declare his future republic. He believes he can gather in it Alawite, Christian, Druze and Shiite minorities, as well as Sunni groups loyal to the regime,” writes Rashed.
“The call for help by the residents of Al-Qusayr is falling on the world’s deaf ears. This will grant Assad and his military commanders the self-confidence needed to implement the ‘purification’ project from the Homs region up to the coast. [It will also allow] Hezbollah militias, likely with the participation of armed Iraqi and Iranian groups, to continue fighting with Assad as they have since last year.”
But beyond the moral and legal ramifications of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, it is simply “political suicide,” argues Al-Quds Al-Arabi columnist Elias Khouri.
“Regardless of the outcome of fighting in the Homs region… the Hezbollah men fighting alongside the Syrian regime and its cronies are today committing the most fatal mistake in their history. The results of this disastrous mistake will not be limited to them alone, but will affect the sect they monopolize and affect Lebanon as a whole. It will be the final, suicidal game in the history of suicides created by Lebanon’s fighting sectarian fabric throughout the past four decades,” writes Khouri.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Tareq Homayed focuses on what he dubs “the hypocrisy of the West” in chastising Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, while giving the Hezbollah “front” a free pass.
“I call this ‘hypocrisy’ because Hassan Nasrallah’s ‘front’ is no less dangerous than the Nusra Front, but rather more dangerous than it,” writes Homayed.
“Hezbollah is defending the worst criminal regime in our region for sectarian reasons, while the Nusra Front is an emergency [remedy] which the Syrians cannot accept or coexist with. It will also not survive if responsible international intervention occurs.”
The weakest link among Syrian’s neighbors is Jordan, claims Al-Hayat columnist Hazem Saghiyeh, as he wonders why Jordan has not yet responded forcefully to its threat from the north.
“It is not odd for Jordan to get involved, in one way or another, in the Syrian crisis. What is odd is that this involvement was delayed thus far,” writes Saghiyeh.
“If the attitude toward Syria has caused a struggle between the Lebanese, it has only strengthened the national consensus among Jordanians. When we recall the bad relations between the throne and the Islamic bloc in Jordan we may remember the eighties, when the Iran-Iraq war allowed for broad agreement between the regime and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Will a similar agreement repeat itself with regard to the Syrian crisis, considering that the opposition to Syria’s tyranny is immeasurably morally stronger than the support for Iraq’s dictatorship at the time?”