Several killed as Syrian rebels clash with Hizbullah in Lebanon

Humanitarian agencies express concern over civilians trapped by siege of Qusayr

Lebanese soldiers inspect a site in the town of Seriine in the Bekaa valley that was hit by a rocket residents say was fired from Syria. Photograph: Reuters

Lebanese soldiers inspect a site in the town of Seriine in the Bekaa valley that was hit by a rocket residents say was fired from Syria. Photograph: Reuters

 


Hizbullah fought with Syrian rebels in Lebanon’s eastern border region yesterday, in the latest eruption of Syria’s conflict on Lebanese soil.

Up to 17 Syrian rebels and one Hizbullah fighter were reported killed three kilometres inside Lebanon where rebels were setting up launchers to fire rockets toward the city of Baalbek, a Hizbullah stronghold in the northern Bekaa Valley. Four Hizbullah members were said to have been wounded.

Lebanese television said the rebels were from the Free Syrian Army but al-Mayadeen, an independent channel, said they were members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

The encounter followed a declaration by rebels that they would target Hizbullah in retaliation for its involvement with the Syrian army in the battle for Qusayr, the transit hub for arms and fighters entering Syria from Lebanon.

As fighting between Syrian army troops and rebels in the strategic town of Qusayr intensified, pressure was exerted by humanitarian agencies and the UN to evacuate civilians and wounded trapped by the two-week-old siege and blockade.


Ready with aid
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed alarm over the situation and said teams from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were in nearby Homs and ready to deliver aid. “Civilians and the wounded are at risk of paying an even higher price as the fighting continues,” said ICRC regional operations chief Robert Mardini.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and UN human rights head Navi Pillay estimated that there were 1,500 wounded in Qusayr in what was a “desperate” situation.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s office asked the sides to allow civilians to leave but Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would allow the Red Crescent into Qusayr “as soon as military operations are over”.

A UN Security Council statement, drafted by Britain, voicing “grave concern” over the situation and demanding immediate access by humanitarian agencies was blocked by Russia which said the council said nothing when Qusayr was occupied by rebels 18 months ago.


Nine killed
In the Damascus suburb of Jobar, nine security men were killed by a bomb planted near a police station by Jabhat al-Nusra, said the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Syrian state news agency Sana reported that the toxic chemical agent sarin, automatic rifles, pistols, and improvised explosive devices were seized by troops at the Faraieh district of Hama city.

The battle for Qusayr has fanned the flames of sectarianism portraying it as a conflict between Sunni fighters and allies of Shia Iran: the Syrian government and Hizbullah.

In Beirut an association of Lebanese Sunni scholars has called on followers to support Syrian rebels by “words, money, medical aid and fighting”, and popular Qatar-based Sunni television preacher Yousef al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, calling on Sunnis to join rebels in Qusayr.

In a likely spillover, three Syrian lorry drivers were killed by gunmen in Iraq, their vehicles burnt, and four Iraqis abducted. Sunni Iraqis have been fighting Syrian rebels for many months while Shia Iraqis have volunteered for service with the Syrian army.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis urged Syrian kidnappers to free hostages without, apparently, specifying two Orthodox Christian bishops held since April. Hostage-taking has been a feature of the Syrian conflict.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has suggested the US-Russian proposed international peace conference could be postponed until July. “The Geneva . . . conference is the last chance,” he said.