Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah categorically denied on Monday Syrian rebel claims that his group had received chemical weapons from the Bashar Assad regime.
“This accusation is truly laughable,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “We understand the dimensions and background of these accusations, and these have dangerous consequences for Lebanon.
“We decisively and conclusively deny these accusations which have absolutely no basis in truth,” he added.
Nasrallah called for a political solution in Syria and urged Sunni powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries that have backed the rebels to “review their positions,” according to Reuters.
“A gamble on a military resolution and on military success is a losing and destructive gamble,” he said.
President Assad pledged in an interview broadcast Monday to honor an agreement to surrender Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, but he said that rebels might try to block international arms inspectors from doing their work.
Assad’s comments came as world leaders gathered in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, where the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war was high on the agenda.
The Syrian leader told Chinese state TV that Damascus is dedicated to implementing the agreement reached between Russia and the US to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. Syria’s stockpile, he said, is “in safe areas and locations and under the full control of the Syrian Arab Army.”
Assad cautioned, however, that the rebels might block inspectors from reaching some of the locations, in order to frame the government.
The US-Russian deal has dealt a blow to the rebels, who had hoped a US-led military strike would turn the war in their favor. Opposition leaders have warned the regime will continue to wield conventional weapons in the civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011.
Fierce fighting between regime forces and rebels Monday included an airstrike that killed at least six people from the same family in central Hama province.
Exclusive AP video showed a helicopter dropping explosives Sunday evening on the village of Habit, followed by pandemonium as civilians and fighters with flashlights searched frantically for survivors in the rubble.
Villagers used a pickax and car jacks to try to rescue a man and his son buried under slabs of concrete. The father’s face and hands could be seen protruding from the rubble. He did not survive, but his son was saved.
Another AP video showed billowing smoke and destruction after helicopters and warplanes bombed rebel positions in the mostly abandoned village of Kafer Zita, also in the Hama region. Several men appeared to be groggy from the blasts and covered in dust. Hospital officials said they struggled to treat the injured, with scarce medication.
Regime forces are fighting Sunni rebels in the Hama area to keep them from advancing on villages inhabited by Alawites, members of Assad’s minority sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
In the latest inter-rebel fighting, the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda offshoot, said its commander in Idlib province, Abu Abdullah al-Libi, was killed in an ambush by members of the Free Syrian Army who opened fire on his car near a border crossing with Turkey on Sunday. The statement was posted on a militant website.
Al-Libi, a Libyan national, is a high-profile militant who fought in Iraq, Libya and most recently in Syria.
Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane’s, said the killing underlines the increasingly hostile environment for the ISIL. The group has sought to expand its influence across opposition-held territory in the north and has increasingly clashed with long-existing rebel units affiliated with the FSA.
The killing “will undoubtedly raise the level of tension amid insurgent forces in northern Syria yet further,” Lister said, adding that the perception within ISIL militant circles that the FSA is a hostile force will likely increase.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group monitoring the conflict, confirmed the death of al-Libi, which is a nom de guerre. It said he was killed with 12 other al-Qaeda fighters near the village of Hazanu, 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House, said the story surrounding rebel infighting was being used by the Assad regime to portray the opposition as unstable and dangerous.
“The story is being overblown, not because of the importance of the guy, but because it’s seen that he was killed by the FSA,” Shehadi said.