Tuesday 20 February 2018

Rockets and mortars from Syria hit Lebanon

Lebanese soldiers inspect a site which was hit by a rocket
Lebanese soldiers inspect a site which was hit by a rocket

Bassem Mroue

More than a dozen rockets and mortar rounds fired from Syria have struck eastern Lebanon, security officials said, as tensions escalated along the Lebanese-Syria border over the increasing role of Hezbollah militants in the civil war next door.

The Lebanese officials said the Baalbek region was struck 16 times, igniting fires in fields but causing no casualties.

Meanwhile, in Qatar, influential Sunni Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi lashed out at Shias and Alawites and blamed them for the bloodshed in Syria.

The Lebanese Hezbollah militia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is Shia, while Assad is an Alawite. The sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.

In a rally in support of the Syrian rebels held late on Friday in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr al-Qaradawi denounced Mr Assad as a "monster" and Hezbollah as the "party of the devil".

He claimed Shias were planning to massacre Sunnis in Syria and that Mr Assad "belongs to a sect more infidel than Christians and Jews.

The cleric, whose TV show is watched by millions, also said there was no more common ground between Shias and Sunnis and he regretted efforts to bring them together.

The Syrian conflict is seen in part as a proxy war, pitting predominantly Sunni rebels backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey against a regime relying on support from Alawites, Shias and Christians, and aided by Shia-dominated Iran.

As the Syrian civil war rages on, there are concerns the fighting could destabilise neighbouring countries and ignite a wider sectarian war.

Most at risk is fragile Lebanon, whose sectarian mix mirrors that of Syria. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Mr Assad's forces, while Syrian rebels have warned they will attack Hezbollah bases in Lebanon.

Over the past week, Syrian rebels have fired dozens of rockets on Lebanon's northeastern region of Hermel, but yesterday's attack was the first on the Baalbek region, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war increased sharply in April, when the group's fighters and Syrian government forces began a major offensive to recapture Qusair, which had fallen to the rebels shortly after the uprising against Mr Assad began in March 2011.

In another development, officials said that gunmen opened fire on a Shia shrine in Baalbek.

The regime and the opposition both value Qusair, which lies along a land corridor linking two of Mr Assad's strongholds, the capital of Damascus and an area along the Mediterranean coast that is the Alawite heartland.

For the rebels, holding the town means protecting their supply line from Lebanon.

Meanwhile, a poll has shown that less than a quarter of the British public believes the UK government should arm the rebels in Syria.

Despite Britain's support for the lifting of the arms embargo, only 24 per cent back giving weapons or military supplies to the forces fighting President Assad.

However, more than half (58 per cent ) of those questioned for the Opinium/ Observer poll would support offering humanitarian aid.

Irish Independent

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