Rising casualty numbers in the civil war in Syria have spurred some family members of Lebanese Hezbollah troops fighting alongside Bashar Assad’s forces to petition the group’s leaders to bring their sons home.
Families of fighters, predominantly from the Baalbek region, which has suffered retaliatory strikes by rebel forces, met with Hezbollah high council member Mohamed Yazbek recently, demanding that the organization’s Shura council stop sending Lebanese soldiers to fight in the neighboring country, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported Sunday.
An unidentified source told the newspaper that the petitioners took pride in their sons for their “sacred battle” against Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and for facing off with IDF troops during Israel’s 20-year presence in southern Lebanon, but said their relatives’ participation on Assad’s side of the Syrian civil war was “shameful.”
According to the report, the petition has moved Hezbollah to turn to its Iranian patrons with the request that the next wave of reinforcements sent to assist Assad be of Iranian rather than Lebanese origin.
“The source said the numbers of Hezbollah fighters participating in the fight alongside the Syrian government had increased noticeably. Following [the] Hezbollah leader’s visit to Tehran and Damascus three months ago, more than 20 units were sent to Syria from the Bekaa by Hezbollah, each battalion consisting of approximately 100 men,” Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Last week, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns denounced Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and accused the Shi’ite terrorist group of putting the interests of Iran and Syria above those of the Lebanese people.
“Despite its membership in the Lebanese government, Hezbollah has decided to put its own interests and those of its foreign backers above those of the Lebanese people,” Burns told reporters as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Lebanon.
“That intervention may be in Hezbollah’s interests, it may be in the interest of Iran, it may be in the interest of Bashar Assad, but it is not in the interest of Lebanon or the Lebanese people,” Burns said.
He added that the US condemned “in the strongest terms” Hezbollah’s actions in Syria and said they “place the future of Lebanon at risk.”
The UK, France, Germany and Holland on Friday urged European Union foreign ministers to discuss putting Hezbollah’s armed wing on the EU terror list. According to Reuters, The proposal has gained urgency in recent weeks because of Hezbollah’s deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Recent fighting underscores the growing sectarian nature of the two-year uprising against Assad’s regime. It began as peaceful protests but turned into an armed rebellion after a brutal government crackdown. It has since taken on regional dimensions, with Hezbollah fighters joining Assad’s forces. Foreign Sunni fighters have joined predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels who are formed in bands ranging from secular to hard-line Islamists.
At home, Assad draws support largely from Syria’s minorities, including fellow Alawites — followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam — as well as Christians, Shiites and Sunnis who fear the hard-line rebels.
In recent weeks, Assad’s forces, bolstered by Hezbollah fighters, have pushed back to seize rebel-held areas in several parts of Syria.