Future slams Hezbollah over Qalamoun

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Future slams Hezbollah over Qalamoun
The Daily Star/May. 13, 2015

BEIRUT: The Future bloc Tuesday slammed Hezbollah over its offensive against rebel groups in Syria’s western Qalamoun region, insisting the Lebanese Army alone is responsible for protecting the country’s borders. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale voiced his confidence in the Lebanese Army’s capability to defend Lebanon’s border from terrorist threats, adding that the U.S. was providing the military with all that it wanted in its war against jihadis.

“We respond to what the Army asks from us and we’ve never said no. We’re giving them exactly what they want, hellfire missiles, precision guided missiles, howitzers … and this is exactly what they need to target this particular terrorism phenomenon,” Hale told LBCI television station. The U.S. official said that his country supported Lebanon’s dissociation policy from the conflict in Syria. “We think those who are breaking that policy of dissociation are responsible for a lot of the instability that Lebanon is facing today,” he said.

“I would say that Daesh [ISIS] posed no threat to Lebanon until Hezbollah went into the war in Syria and that provided the magnet that drew these terrorists here,” Hale said. The Future bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting that “the mission of protecting Lebanon’s eastern and northern borders with Syria against militants, and the entire Lebanese border, is the duty of the Lebanese Army and not any other group.”“The ultimate decision in this regard is among the powers of the Cabinet and not any other, whether a party or regional power,” the statement added.

Hezbollah’s departure from Lebanese national consensus through its engagement in the Qalamoun battles, contrary to the decision of the Cabinet, has produced internal complications and tarnished the image and the prestige of the state, the statement said. At the same time, battles continued Tuesday in Qalamoun between Hezbollah and the Syrian army on one side and the Nusra Front and allied Syrian rebels on the other.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV aired scenes Tuesday of party fighters and Syrian troops on two hilltops seized from Islamist fighters, in the latest in a series of gains following more than a week of clashes in the border area. The television station said the hills were located west of the outskirts of the Syrian village of Ras al-Maara and east of the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Nahleh.

The report identified one of the hilltops as the Qornet Mashrouh Haql Zeaiter, and said the forces also captured the area of Jiwar Beit Abdel-Haq. The most recent positions captured by the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies in the Qalamoun region will prevent militants from launching attacks at the Bekaa Valley, Al-Manar said. Bekaa Valley villages to the East have been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past few years launched by Syrian rebel groups. Some groups, including ISIS and the Nusra Front, have also infiltrated Lebanese territory to wage attacks on Hezbollah and Lebanese Army positions.

Intermittent clashes persisted on the outskirts of Ras al-Maara and around the Al-Barouh hill, one day after fierce fighting in the area left several rebel fighters dead. Tuesday saw lighter clashes due to intermittent rainfall and fog. Al-Manar said that militants who withdrew from hills and villages captured by Hezbollah and the Syrian army in Qalamoun are now positioned in Tallit Moussa, the highest hilltop in the Qalamoun mountains. Fighting could move to that spot.

The high altitude would allow the Syrian army to monitor militant movements in the vast expanse of Qalamoun and the outskirts of the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal. Rebels also receded toward the outskirts of Arsal and “portions” of the outskirts of Flita, Al-Manar said. Al-Manar showed militants being targeted by drones in Qalamoun and aired photos of cars, weapons, ammunition, food and equipment abandoned by Syrian rebels in the battlefield.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one fighter from Islamist factions fighting alongside the Nusra Front in Qalamoun was killed in the fierce clashes with the Syrian army and Hezbollah Tuesday. It added that there were reports that both warring groups suffered additional human losses. Syrian opposition websites quoted rebels as saying that they have not begun their actual battle with Hezbollah in Qalamoun yet and that they were currently engaged in a war of attrition against the party.

They dismissed Hezbollah’s claims of advances on ground as “baseless” and a mere media war, adding that battles persisted on the outskirts of Ras al-Maara and al-Juba. ISIS and a Nusra-led coalition of militants are also reportedly battling each other in Qalamoun. In a statement, the Nusra Front and its allies in the Qalamoun region vowed to “eradicate” ISIS after a series of provocations by the notorious Al-Qaeda splinter group sparked a round of inter-jihadi clashes.