Rockets strike Shia suburb in south Beirut
Attack followed Hizbullah leader’s pledge of victory for his pro-regime fighters in Syria
Hizbullah supporters and relatives of members of the the Islamic Shia movement attend the funeral yesterday of a Hizbullah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict in Ouzai in Beirut. Photograph: Issam Kobeisy/Reuters
Two crude rockets fired from the Lebanese coastal mountain range into a Shia majority neighbourhood in south Beirut yesterday struck a car dealership and a flat, wounding four people. Interior minister Marwan Charbel called the strike an act of sabotage but refused to allocate blame.
The attack, the first to target the capital, appeared to be in response to Saturday’s televised address by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement, who admitted its military wing is heavily involved in the Syrian conflict.
Sayyed Nasrallah pledged “victory” in Syria, where his fighters have joined the Syrian army in an all-out operation to capture the town of Qusayr from rebels who are said to have pulled back from two-thirds of the strategic town 10km from the Lebanese border.
The sectarian nature of Syria’s conflict has already been replicated in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli, where pro-rebel Sunnis have been battling pro-government heterodox Shia Alawites over the past week, leaving 30 dead.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius condemned the Beirut incident, insisting it was essential to “avoid the war in Syria becoming a war in Lebanon”.
Sayyed Nasrallah, speaking on the 13th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, said Hizbullah had become involved to secure its very existence.
The struggle in Syria had entered a new phase, he said. Hizbullah wanted to fortify Syria, its “backbone, and to fortify and protect Lebanon” from radical Sunni fighters, he said.
He said these fighters believed Muslims who did not share their beliefs were infidels, and Hizbullah would be targeted by the US and Israel if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was ousted. “If Syria falls, then Palestine and the resistance [to Israeli occupation] will be lost as well,” he said.
Pro-rebel former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri said Hizbullah was committing “political and military suicide in Qusayr” while the opposition Syrian National Coalition called on Hizbullah fighters to defect to avoid killing “innocent Syrians” and turning “the Syrian revolution into a regional conflict”.
In northern Syria, 11 rebels were killed in clashes with Kurdish forces, the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The Kurds, about 15 per cent of the population, have not only tried to remain neutral in the power struggle but also assumed control of Kurdish majority areas along the borders of Iraq and Turkey.
Iraqi forces have mounted an operation to secure the country’s porous 600km western border with Syria, a major route for infiltration by Sunni fighters seeking to join Syrian rebels.