Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed Monday the Lebanese government for failing to act on Hezbollah’s reportedly growing involvement in the conflict in Syria, as the party buried some of its fighters killed in battle with Syrian rebels.
U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed concern over Hezbollah’s “active and growing role in Syria” in a telephone call with his Lebanese counterpart Michel Sleiman.
“The two leaders agreed that all parties should respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria and avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict,” a White House statement said.
Accusing Hezbollah of dragging Lebanon into a bloody war against the Syrian people, Hariri said: “The party is sending hundreds of Lebanese to fight alongside the regime forces and participate in invading Syrian villages and towns, in operations as repugnant as the Israeli invasions of villages in South Lebanon and the invasion by the Syrian regime forces of Lebanon in the 1970s.”
“The peak of tragedy in the crime committed by Hezbollah is the fact that there are none in the Lebanese state who regard themselves responsible for the border [with Syria] or for the daily violations by hundreds of fighters who have chosen to usurp the role of the state and ignore the wishes of the Lebanese people,” Hariri said in a statement released by his office.
“Is there a decision to hand over the state and its security and constitutional institutions to Hezbollah? Is there an acknowledgment by the state and its institutions that Hezbollah Secretary-General [Sayyed] Hasan Nasrallah is above the state and its institutions?” Over the weekend, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters reportedly advanced into the rebel-held Syrian town of Qusair, a strategic city near the Lebanese border. Syrian opposition activists said Monday at least 28 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in fierce fighting with rebels in Qusair.
Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest ally in Lebanon, has admitted sending fighters to Syrian border villages where there are Lebanese populations. The party denies fighting alongside forces loyal to Assad and says its activities are aimed at training residents fend off rebel assaults.
“Hezbollah chose to clone the Israeli crimes committed against the people of Lebanon and apply them against the residents in the Syrian town of Qusair and the villages near Homs,” Hariri said.
He also said “the party’s presence in Qusair is part of a decision to eliminate the Lebanese state or at best a clear declaration by the party that the state can be controlled through bullying by those who have weapons.
“This is the ugly truth, no matter how they try to conceal it,” he added.
The leader of the Future Movement promised political measures to protect Lebanon’s dignity: “We, on our part, will react on the political and non-political levels to preserve Lebanon’s dignity and end the projects aiming to hand Lebanon over to Hezbollah and the axes of strife in the region.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah Monday buried four of its dead fighters in the Bekaa Valley city of Hermel, while five other slain fighters were to be laid to rest in their home villages in the Hermel-Baalbek region Tuesday.
Hezbollah has not yet issued a statement on its casualties in Qusair. But sources close to the party put the number of Hezbollah’s casualties at 25 dead and 70 wounded in Sunday’s clashes.
Sources from the Beirut southern suburbs told The Daily Star that several ambulances were seen carrying at least seven dead Hezbollah fighters to Al-Rasoul al-Azam Hospital. – with additional reporting by Rakan al-Fakih