Archive for the ‘ Hizbollah ’ Category

Senior Hezbollah commander killed in Beirut

December 04, 2013

BAALBEK, Lebanon (AP) — The attackers waited in an olive grove around midnight. As the Hezbollah commander pulled into the garage of his nearby apartment building, they went in after him. Five bullets were pumped into his head and neck from a silencer-equipped pistol — an assassination that reverberated across the Middle East.

The killing early Wednesday of Hassan al-Laqis, described as a member of the inner circle of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, was the latest in a series of recent attacks against the Iranian-backed group.

Hezbollah blamed Israel, which denied involvement. However, the Shiite militant group’s open support of Syrian President Bashar Assad has enraged Sunnis and left it with no shortage of enemies eager to strike at its strongholds and leadership. Dozens of people have been killed in deadly car bombings claimed by radical Sunni groups.

The group’s participation in the civil war in Syria is highly divisive and unpopular in Lebanon, where many feel it has deviated from its raison d’etre of fighting Israel and exposed the Shiite community to retaliation.

Most recently, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23. An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility, saying it was payback for Hezbollah’s support of Assad.

Al-Laqis’ killing came shortly after Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the embassy bombings in a sharp escalation in rhetoric against the Sunni regional powerhouse. In a three-hour interview with a local TV station, he indirectly suggested an alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia was trying to destabilize his group.

The Saudi monarchy is engaged in a proxy war with Iran over influence in the region, and in that, Riyadh has increasingly found common ground with the Jewish state. “The assassination is another notch in tensions between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia,” said Kamel Wazne, founder of the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut.

“There will be repercussions. It’s going to be more like an open battle,” he said. Two previously unknown Sunni groups claimed responsibility on Twitter for al-Laqis’ assassination, but the claims could not be verified.

Al-Laqis, 53, was killed as he returned home from work, Hezbollah said. “The brother martyr Hassan al-Laqis spent his youth and dedicated all his life in this honorable resistance since its inception up until the last moments of his life,” a statement from the group said.

An official close to the highly secretive group said al-Laqis held some of Hezbollah’s most sensitive portfolios and was very close to Nasrallah and his inner circle, often acting as a link with officials in Tehran.

“He was one of the brains behind much of the group’s operations,” the official said. Hezbollah distributed a photo of al-Laqis and said Israel had tried to kill him several times. The image showed a man wearing beige-and-khaki military clothes, with neatly cut black hair and a graying close-cropped beard.

There were conflicting reports on whether he was involved in the Syria war, where the group’s fighters have helped Assad’s troops gain the upper hand in key areas near the border with Lebanon. Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said the U.S. has seen reports of the killing and was looking to all parties “to cooperate with a full investigation.”

“We’ve been very concerned by recurring instances of sectarian and political violence in Lebanon, and we have talked about the negative impact that Syria has had in Lebanon and Iraq,” she said. Al-Laqis was shot with a pistol equipped with a silencer at close range after he parked in his apartment building in the Hadath neighborhood southwest of Beirut, according to a Lebanese security official and the official close to Hezbollah. Several assailants appear to have been involved, they said.

Muddy footprints led from the olive grove to the parking garage. Yellow police tape blocked off the area, and Hezbollah investigators were at the scene. He was struck by five bullets in the head and neck, the Lebanese official said. The gunmen fled, and al-Laqis was taken to a nearby hospital but died of his wounds, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

“I was trying to sleep, and I heard … a bullet being fired and a dog barking,” said Abdullah, a resident who asked to be identified only by his first name for security reasons. “I did not bother myself, but later I heard people screaming. … Then our neighbors told us that one of the neighbors was assassinated,” Abdullah said.

Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety, said none of the neighbors were aware that al-Laqis was a security man and that he went about his business like everyone else.

Al-Laqis did not have bodyguards with him, suggesting he did not want to draw attention to himself. The assassination marked a rare breach of the Shiite militant group’s security — the fourth successful penetration of a Hezbollah enclave in recent months.

It also underscored how the militia has found itself engaged on multiple fronts: Shoring up Assad’s rule in Syria while also keeping up the fight against Israel. Some of Hezbollah’s most loyal supporters in the Shiite community have been reluctant to embrace its fight in Syria.

That involvement has raised tensions in Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities as each side lines up in support of their brethren in the Syrian civil war. That has fueled predictions that Lebanon, still recovering from its 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.

In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, there have been bloody street battles between rival sides nearly every day, with at least 12 people killed last week. Al-Laqis was buried later Wednesday in his hometown of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon. A few thousand people took part in pouring rain, and women wept as Hezbollah pallbearers carried the coffin, wrapped in the group’s yellow flag, through the streets. Hezbollah fighters fired in the air in mourning.

“The Israeli enemy is naturally directly to blame,” the Hezbollah statement said. “This enemy must shoulder complete responsibility and repercussions for this heinous crime and its repeated targeting of leaders and cadres of the resistance.”

Israeli officials categorically denied involvement. Still, Israel could view the fallout from Hezbollah’s armed intervention in Syria — and the long list of enemies it has created — as cover to move against one of the group’s senior figures and settle old scores with Hezbollah and Iran.

Hezbollah has fought several wars against Israel. Al-Laqis’ son, Ali, died fighting Israel in the monthlong 2006 war. Israel’s Mossad intelligence service has been suspected of assassinating Hezbollah commanders for more than two decades.

In 1992, Israeli helicopter gunships ambushed the motorcade of Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi, killing him, his wife and 5-year-old son, and four bodyguards. Eight years earlier, Hezbollah leader Sheik Ragheb Harb was shot and killed in south Lebanon.

One of the biggest blows for the group came in 2008 when top military commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a bomb that ripped through his car in Damascus. Hezbollah and its primary patron, Iran, blamed Israel’s Mossad for the killing.

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.

Advertisements

Hezbollah, Iraqi militia capture Damascus suburb: opposition

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN | Wed Oct 9, 2013

(Reuters) – Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ite militia backed by Syrian army firepower overran a southern suburb of Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said, in a blow to Sunni Muslim rebels trying to hold onto strategic outskirts of the capital.

At least 20 rebels were killed when Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi militiamen captured the town of Sheikh Omar under cover of Syrian army artillery and tank fire and aerial bombardment, the activists said, with tens of Shi’ite fighters killed or wounded.

Sheikh Omar sits between two highways leading south of Damascus that are crucial to supplying President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the provinces of Deraa and Sweida on the border with Jordan.

Syria’s 2-1/2 year war has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions from their homes into sprawling refugee camps in neighboring countries.

It began with peaceful demonstrations against four decades of iron rule by the Assad family. With regional powers backing opposing sides in the conflict and Russia blocking Western efforts to force Assad aside, there is little sign of an end to the bloodshed.

Regional security officials say up to 60,000 fighters from Iraq, Iran and Yemen and Hezbollah are present in Syria supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The country has also seen the influx of 30,000 Sunni Muslim fighters to support the rebels, including foreign jihadists and Syrian expatriates.

Hezbollah has acknowledged fighting openly in support of Assad, its main patron together with Shi’ite Iran, but the group does not comment on the specifics of its operations in the country.

The deployment of the Iraqi and Lebanese militia has been vital in preventing all southern approaches to Damascus from falling into rebel hands, according to opposition sources and the regional security officials.

The foreign Shi’ite fighters together with soldiers and local paramilitaries loyal to Assad have been laying siege to rebel-held southern suburbs of the capital near the Shi’ite shrine of Saida Zainab for the past six months, residents say.

The siege has squeezed rebels in areas further to the center of the city and caused acute shortages of food and medicine that have hit the civilian population.

FLOOD OF WOUNDED

Wardan Abu Hassan, a doctor at a makeshift hospital in southern Damascus, said the facility and another nearby received 70 wounded people, both fighters and civilians, since 4.00 a.m.

The wounded came from Sheikh Omar and the nearby suburbs of al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida, where the rebels were trying to hold off the Shi’ite militia advance, he said.

“Most of the casualties are from air strikes, and fire from tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” the physician told Reuters.

An opposition group, the Damascus Revolution Leadership Council, said a baby girl died on Wednesday in the southern district of Hajar al-Asswad from malnutrition caused by the siege. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Rami al-Sayyed from the opposition Syrian Media Center mentoring group said rebel fighters were trying to hold off the Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters in al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida.

“It is tough because the regime is providing Hezbollah and the Iraqis with heavy artillery and rocket cover from high ground,” he said.

Sayyed said much of the fire was coming from the 56th army brigade in the hilly region of Sahya. That area was evacuated after the threat of U.S. strikes following a nerve gas attack in August on other rebellious Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds.

The area became operational again after the threat receded following a deal to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, Sayyed said.

Buoyed by the receding prospect of U.S. intervention, Assad has been seeking to tighten his grip on the center of the country, the coast, areas along the country’s main north-south highway as well as the capital and its environs.

Large areas of southern Damascus, including the areas of Hajar al-Assad and the Yarmouk refugee camp, are inhabited by poor refugees from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, who have been at the forefront of the revolt against Assad, as well as Palestinian refugees.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/09/us-syria-crisis-damascus-idUSBRE9980XW20131009.

Senator warns Hizbullah may have chemical weapons; Jordan’s king could be toppled

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has been warned that Syria’s chemical weapons could be dispersed and that Jordan could collapse.

A leading senator said the Hashemite kingdom was under tremendous strain from the civil war in neighboring Jordan. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Jordan’s King Abdullah could not bear the huge Syrian refugee population as well as threats from Iran and Al Qaida-aligned rebels.

“You ask me about my biggest fear would be to lose the king of Jordan for prolonged war, that the Al Qaida elements of the rebels could wind up seizing the chemical weapons cache, that Assad would share chemical weapons or advance Russian weapons with Hizbullah, which would be a direct threat,” Graham said.

Over the last few months, Graham has repeatedly warned of Jordan’s vulnerability. In July, the senator told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Abdullah said in 2012 that the influx of Syrian refugees — now reported at more than 650,000 — could destroy his regime. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he shared that concern.

“Will [Abdullah] be in power a year from now?” Graham asked Dempsey. “I have met with him and he is concerned with the demographic change. He told me last year he did not think he will be there in another year because there will be a million Syrian refugees destabilizing Jordan. Do you agree with that?”

“That is his concern,” Dempsey replied.

Earlier, Graham said Abdullah could not face an emboldened regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The senator urged Obama to use Jordan and Turkey to neutralize Assad’s military, backed by Iran and Russia.

“So the balance of power is really now on Assad’s side,” Graham told a television roundtable on June 13. “And if we don’t do more than add AK-47s into the mix, he will continue to win. And the king of Jordan is going to become toast.”

One option raised by Graham was the use of Jordan and Turkey to establish a no-fly zone in Syria to protect Sunni rebels. Graham cited the U.S. deployment of F-16 multi-role fighters and PAC-3 air and missile defense systems in the kingdom.

Graham, in close contact with Abdullah, envisioned the fall of the Hashemite kingdom and its replacement by an Al Qaida-aligned regime.

He said Washington must ensure the departure of Assad for regional stability.

“But if the war lasts six, four months, Jordan’s going to go,” Graham said. “And Israel’s going to be surrounded by a Syria on fire, Jordan more radical, and Egypt becoming more radical. The whole region’s about to blow up. And our foreign policy to me, I don’t understand it. Whatever it is is not working.”

Source: World Tribune.

Link: http://www.worldtribune.com/2013/08/27/senator-warns-hizbullah-may-have-chemical-weapons-jordans-king-could-be-toppled/.

Syria opposition hails EU’s blacklisting Hezbollah

July 23, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Tuesday welcomed an EU decision to place the military wing of Hezbollah on the bloc’s terror list as a “step in the right direction,” and called for the Lebanese militant group’s leaders to be put on trial for their role in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, has sent its fighters to bolster President Bashar Assad’s forces in their assault on rebel-held areas in Syria. The group was instrumental in helping government forces seize the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border last month, and its members are believed to be fighting alongside regime forces in the central province of Homs.

The Shiite group’s role is highly divisive in Lebanon and has outraged the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting in Syria to topple Assad. The EU’s 28 foreign ministers placed Hezbollah’s military wing on its terror list on Monday after prolonged diplomatic pressure from the U.S. and Israel, which consider the group a terrorist organization.

Some European countries had pushed for EU action, citing a terrorist attack in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Burgas last year that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian. Hezbollah’s military wing was accused of involvement, an allegation it denied. In March, a criminal court in Cyprus found a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

But several EU nations have pointed to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as further reason for the move. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition umbrella group, hailed the EU decision but stressed the need for European countries to take “concrete steps that would contribute to stopping the militia’s involvement in Syria.”

“We call for Hezbollah leaders to be put on trial for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian territory,” the SNC said in a statement. It did not say where they should face trial, and the prospects of senior Hezbollah figures ever appearing in a courtroom to answer for the Iranian-backed group’s role in Syria appear dim.

Iran, meanwhile, said the European Union’s decision was “strange” and “uncalculated” and said it serves Israel’s interests. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told a news conference in Tehran Tuesday that the designation won’t change Hezbollah’s “popular and justice-seeking identity.”

In Syria, an al-Qaida-linked group warned civilians to stay off a road linking central Syria with the northern province of Aleppo, declaring it a military zone, as the rebels try to cut one of the regime’s main routes for supplying its forces in the north, activists said Tuesday.

The warning comes a day after rebels went on the offensive in Syria’s north, seizing three villages in the province where a military stalemate has been in place since last summer. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center said that Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, is threatening to target any vehicle using the road starting Wednesday. A copy of the warning was posted online.

The regime uses the route to ferry supplies to its forces in the north because the rebels already have severed the main north-south highway that connects Damascus with the embattled city of Aleppo, where regime forces have battled rebels in vicious street fighting for a year. The desert road was paved and opened by regime forces earlier this year.

The statement, which was stamped with the Nusra Front emblem, said the Syrian military “opened this road to civilian cars and trucks when in fact it is a military road.” “There are daily clashes and military operations there. Holy warriors have booby-trapped the road,” it said, instructing civilians not to use the road and claiming that the army will be using them as “human shields to cover its movements.”

If the rebels succeed in cutting the road, it will be a major blow to the regime, making it more difficult to bring in military reinforcements as well as other supplies to Aleppo province, most of which is under rebel control.

EU declares Hezbollah’s military wing terror group

July 22, 2013

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has declared the military wing of Lebanese party Hezbollah a terrorist group.

A French diplomat says that the Monday decision by the EU’s 28 foreign ministers was reached unanimously. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Iranian-backed group plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, dominating the government since 2011, and has since sent its members to bolster Syria’s President Bashar Assad forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.

Hezbollah Regions Targeted As Syria War Spreads to Lebanon

July 18

There are ghosts hunting Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, over a wide expanse of the country stretching from Beirut’s southern suburbs all the way to Lebanon’s south and north to the Bekaa. These areas, predominantly inhabited by Hezbollah’s social base, face daily alarms and reports of suspicious objects that may contain explosive devices. These incidents are quickly checked out and dealt with by members of the party or the Lebanese army. Reporting suspect objects or vehicles has become a daily occurrence that reflects the growing concern inside Hezbollah’s areas of influence about their continued targeting with explosive devices.

Since Hezbollah directly entered the fray in Syria on the side of the regime, it has worked to neutralize reactions such as the ones taking place today. The party has sealed off its territory by adopting security measures that include installing surveillance cameras on all the entrances to its neighborhoods, as well as, some say, electronic explosive-detection devices and roving patrols by members of its security teams.

Hezbollah has also established neighborhood-watch squads that monitor, around the clock, the comings and goings of any outsiders to the area. Yet despite all these measures, an explosive-laden car succeeded in infiltrating the most tightly surveilled of the southern suburbs’ neighborhoods, Bir el-Abed, where it was detonated. Undoubtedly, the most dangerous aspect of the Bir el-Abed attack was the message that it conveyed to Hezbollah’s social base, informing them that their neighborhoods can be infiltrated and that there would be a price to pay for their party’s participation in the fighting in Syria.

Hezbollah is intensifying its efforts on the security level to counteract this message by proving that its intelligence services are capable of protecting its social base’s neighborhoods, and that its followers will never be left at the mercy of explosive devices planted by hostile organizations.

The front on which Hezbollah is being targeted with explosive devices is expanding by the day. On July 16, two of the party’s vehicles, while heading along the Chatoura highway toward Syria, were targeted by an explosive device that wounded some of their occupants. At least two other similar incidents have taken place recently.

The fear is that the factions targeting Hezbollah have decided to open against it a security front that encompasses all of Lebanon, adopting a type of guerrilla warfare involving assassinations with both bullets or explosives. According to sources close to the party, the main conclusion reached by analyzing the prevalent data on the ground, as reflected by the attempts against the party and its areas of influence, is that an important faction, and not a mere organization, has decided to wage a wide-scale security war against Hezbollah and its social base in Lebanon.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/07/hezbollah-targeted-lebanon-bombs-syria.html.

Saudi to expel Hezbollah supporters over Syria war

June 20, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — In the latest sign of the fissures growing in the Arab world over the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut has announced that the kingdom plans to deport Lebanese who supported Hezbollah, one of Damascus’ key allies.

The warning comes as the Lebanese Shiite militant group takes an increasingly prominent role in the Syrian war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops in a key battle earlier this month. Saudi Arabia is a strong backer of the mostly-Sunni Syrian opposition trying to remove Assad from power. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

It follows the decision earlier this month by the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — to crack down on Hezbollah members in the Gulf and limit their “financial and business transactions.”

Hezbollah says it has no businesses in the Gulf nations. However, there are more than half a million Lebanese working in the Gulf Arab nations, including tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia, some of whom have been living in the kingdom for decades. Many of those Lebanese are Shiites.

Saudi Arabia will deport “those who financially support this party,” Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri told Lebanon’s Future TV late Wednesday. He did not elaborate on whether other actions could be also considered support for Hezbollah.

“This is a serious decision and will be implemented in detail,” Assiri said, without specifying when the deportations would begin. “Acts are being committed against innocent Syrian people.” Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters Thursday he was in contact with Gulf officials over the matter. Hezbollah and its allies dominate Lebanon’s current government, which resigned March 22, but continues to run the country’s affairs in a caretaker capacity.

Syria’s 2-year civil war, which has killed nearly 93,000 people, is increasingly pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims and threatening the stability of Syria’s neighbors. Assad draws his support largely from fellow Alawites as well as other minorities including Christians and Shiites. He is backed by Shiite Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiites.

U.S. officials estimate that 5,000 Hezbollah members are fighting alongside Assad’s regime, while thousands of Sunni foreign fighters are also believed to be in Syria — including members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate that is believed to be among the most effective rebel factions. Public opinion in Sunni states is often sympathetic to the rebels.

Fighting between pro- and anti-Syrian groups has broken out in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is deepening tensions at home. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who has been increasingly critical of the group recently, said in remarks published Thursday that he is against Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and that Hezbollah fighters should return to Lebanon.

“I told them from the start that I am against this act,” he was quoted by al-Safir daily as saying. In Syria, activists reported violence between government forces and rebels in different parts of the country on Thursday, mostly near the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban center and its commercial hub.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 rebels were killed in a battle with government troops in Aleppo, where the opposition has controlled whole neighborhoods and large swathes of surrounding land since last summer.

Pro-regime media outlets announced earlier this month that troops had launched an offensive to build on the momentum of their Qusair triumph to retake Aleppo and other areas of the north. Another activist group, the Syria-based Aleppo Media Center, said rebels launched an attack on army positions in the city’s Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood. There were no immediate reports of casualties on the government side in the fighting.

Amateur videos showed gunmen shooting and firing rockets at army positions in the neighborhood. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted. Meanwhile, Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group said 40,000 civilians in two northern districts of Damascus in which government forces have been operating are suffering food shortages and lack medical supplies.

“After six months of continuous siege, (and ) military checkpoints … the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Barzeh are at risk,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement. It said the government forces conduct frequent raids in the two districts and there is fear that such army operations will result in a “massacre.”

Also on Thursday, the Observatory urged the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to intervene and take medicine and food to Aleppo’s central prison. Heavy fighting around the prison has raged for weeks and there have been casualties among the prisoners, the activists said.

The Observatory, which has a network of activists around the country, said three detainees died this week from tuberculosis and that scabies was spreading in the jail, which holds thousands of prisoners.

The prison, which is besieged by rebels, relies on food and medicine brought in drop-offs by army helicopters. The Observatory said more than 100 detainees have been killed since April when the fighting around the prison began.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels and Kurdish gunmen reached an agreement to end a rebel siege of the northern predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin that triggered a shortage of food and medicine there, the Observatory said.

The Afrin flare-up began when rebels wanted to pass through it to attack the predominantly Shiite villages of Nubul and Zahra, controlled by Assad loyalists, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said. After Kurdish groups refused, rebels attacked Kurdish checkpoints and laid siege beginning on May 25.

Advertisements