Hezbollah says to stay in Syria ‘until further notice’

Some 1,665 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria since 2013.
Thursday 20/09/2018
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a screen in Beirut, on September 20. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a screen in Beirut, on September 20. (Reuters)

LONDON – Hezbollah will stay in Syria “until further notice”, the leader of the Lebanese Shia movement Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday in a televised address.

“We will remain there even after the Idlib accord,” Nasrallah said, referring to a Russia-Turkey deal to prevent a Syrian regime offensive on the country’s last rebel-held stronghold.

“We will stay until further notice,” he stressed, speaking on the eve of the Shia commemoration of Ashura.

“Our presence there is tied to necessity and to the consent of the Syrian leadership,” said Nasrallah, whose Hezbollah movement is backing the Damascus regime in the ongoing conflict.

Hezbollah officially entered the Syrian war in 2013 on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, who is also backed by Iran and Russia.

Moscow’s military intervention in 2015 marked a turning point in the conflict and enabled Assad to secure a series of victories against rebels and jihadists.

The regime now controls nearly two-thirds of the country and Nasrallah said such a change in fortunes would inevitably affect operations.

“Naturally, the calm of the front lines, and the decline in threats will have an impact on the numbers present,” he said.

Some 1,665 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Moscow and Ankara — which supports some rebel groups — agreed on Monday to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib, averting a regime assault on the province. The deal also calls for removing radical groups as well as heavy weapons from the area and for coordinated Russian and Turkish patrols to monitor the agreement.

“With the Idlib accord, if everything is done correctly, we can suppose that Syria will head towards a great calm, and in concrete terms there will no longer be front lines,” said Nasrallah.

Commenting on the Israeli strikes in Latakia late Monday, Nasrallah denied the target was a shipment of weapons heading to Hezbollah.

Israel’s army said Tuesday that strikes a day earlier targeted a Syrian facility that was about to transfer weapons to Hezbollah on behalf of Iran.

Israel has been increasing its strikes inside Syria, protesting Iran and Hezbollah’s growing influence there.

Nasrallah said Israel uses Iran and Hezbollah as an “excuse” but really aims to degrade Syria’s military capabilities.

“This is a lie. Sometimes they do hit places that are connected to weapons — that they know of — but many of the attacks are not related to that at all,” he said. “Israel is working on preventing Syria from possessing missile capabilities.”

The strikes on Monday ended with Syrian air defense forces hitting a Russian aircraft in the air. Some 15 Russian servicemen were killed in the crash, causing a tiff between Russia and Israel, which had been coordinating Syria policy.

(AW and agencies)