Fortified in Damascus, Hezbollah Denies Lebanon Withdrawal Rumors

Rumors emerged in recent weeks that Hezbollah – its brand as a Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese interests having been shattered by its involvement in the Syrian conflict – was untangling itself from that almost three year old conflict. A graphic video posted online and embedded below, which appeared to show Hezbollah soldiers pulling severely wounded Syrian rebels out of vans and executing them, created a firestorm of protest and put additional pressure on the Iran-backed terror group.

Sources who spoke to Lebanon’s Daily Star this week were explicit and adamant that, in fact, the Iran-backed group was doing no such thing:

Hezbollah has scaled down the Resistance Brigades in Sidon by half but has not disbanded the group, despite media reports to the contrary, sources with knowledge of the issue told The Daily Star Wednesday. “The decision to minimize the role and number of the fighters doesn’t mean that the Brigades are dismantled and discarded as a security arm of Hezbollah,” a political source in Sidon said. “Rather, it means that the party is seeking to organize it more and redefine its role and keeping its members under control.”… Hezbollah recently decreased the number of the Resistance Brigades fighters from about 500 to between 200 and 250 and purged its ranks of troublemakers who were exacerbating tensions with the local community. The remaining fighters are “disciplined” and have undergone military and education sessions, said a source close to the party. The sources added that among the fighters excluded were several men of religion.

Hezbollah forces in Damascus, who are fortified there alongisde Shiite forces from Iraq, came under mortar and gunfire attacks yesterday and stretching into today. Reuters points out that the dynamic – Sunni fighters fighting against Shiites from Lebanon and Iraq – speaks to the degree to which the fighting has become regional and sectarian rather than Syrian:

Fighting flared on Thursday between Syrian Sunni rebels and foreign militias near a main Shi’ite shrine on the southern edge of Damascus, opposition activists said, in an increasingly internationalized conflict deepening Middle East sectarian faultlines. Heavy clashes were reported as rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, attacked Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militia based in the Saida Zainab suburb of Damascus with mortar bombs and automatic weapons, the sources said.

Warning for graphic content:

[Photo: FutureTrillionare / Wiki Commons]