Hezb'allah fighters killed in clash with Syrian rebels

Hezb'allah terrorists have assisted President Assad's forces in the Syrian civil war almost from the beginning. But they managed to keep a low profile and were rarely seen on the battlefield.

Now comes news that three Hezb'allah terrorists have been killed in action with Syrian rebels near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Los Angeles Times:

Several Hezbollah fighters were reported killed inside Syria this past weekend in the latest indication that combatants from the Lebanese-based group have battled Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

The Beirut-based English language Daily Star reported that three Hezbollah fighters and 12 Syrian rebels were killed in fierce clashes just inside Syria, close to the Lebanese-Syrian border. The confrontations occurred near the Syrian town of Qusayr, the Star reported, quoting a Lebanese security source.

The border area has long been a battlefield between the Syrian military and anti-government insurgents. The region is an important smuggling corridor for weapons and rebel fighters heading from Lebanon to Syria's neighboring Homs province.

Hezbollah did not comment on the latest reports of casualties in Syria.

Hezbollah has vehemently denied repeated allegations from the Syrian opposition that it has dispatched militiamen to fight alongside government forces in Syria. But Hezbollah has acknowledged that some party members may be acting on their own to protect border-area villages under attack from Syrian rebels.

Hezbollah has periodically announced the death of members killed while performing "jihad duties," but generally withholds details. The group is known for secrecy and tight discipline.

Hezbollah has been a staunch supporter of Assad during the almost two-year-long rebellion against his rule.

Allegations that Hezbollah has dispatched fighters to Syria underscore sectarian divisions in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group. Syrian rebels are mostly Sunni Muslims, the majority population in Syria. Assad and much of his security leadership are members of the Alawite sect, regarded as an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Shiite-led government of Iran is a patron of Hezbollah and Assad's Syria. Iran, like Hezbollah, has denied rebel charges that its forces are on the ground in Syria assisting Assad's military.

Iran may have greenlighted Hezb'allah's increased role in trying to save their ally President Assad. It wouldn't be a surprise considering the slow deterioration of Assad's position and the slowly increasing strength of the Syrian opposition.

But Hezb'allah risks losing political clout at home if it continues to support Assad, who is hated in many corners of Lebanese society. Clashes between pro and anti Assad partisans have left dozens dead in Lebanon, and the Syrian conflict still poses a threat to the stability of the tiny country.

Hezb'allah is taking a calculated risk in openly joining the fight for Assad's survival. Given the stakes for their paymasters in Iran, it's hardly surprising.

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