Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose
fighters have been supporting Assad inside Syria, also said that
after three years of conflict the danger of the country fragmenting
Assad has lost control of large swathes of northern and eastern
Syria to Syrian Islamist rebels and foreign jihadis. But his forces,
backed by Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim fighters and Iranian
military commanders, have driven rebels back from around Damascus
and secured most of central Syria.
"In my estimation, the phase of overthrowing the regime and
overthrowing the state is over," Nasrallah told Al-Safir newspaper,
adding that he believed Assad would put himself forward for a third
presidential term in a vote due by July.
"It's natural that he nominates himself, and I believe that will
happen," Nasrallah said of the planned vote expected to take place
despite ongoing conflict and massive displacement within Syria.
Assad's international foes have said the poll would be a "parody of
Rebels "cannot overthrow the regime (but) they can wage a war of
attrition," Nasrallah said. "The real danger was, and still is to a
certain extent, the end of Syria, its fragmentation. The danger was
real and serious... I think we have passed the danger of
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war,
according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring
group. A third of those were pro-Assad forces, including 364
Hezbollah fighters, it said.
Nasrallah dismissed rebel gains over the last two weeks in the
coastal province of Latakia — a stronghold of Assad's minority
Alawite faith where rebels have seized the Kasab border crossing — as little more than a distraction.
"We can't call what is happening in Latakia and Kasab a big battle
... it's a limited operation," he said, adding that talk of a big
rebel offensive in the southern province of Deraa on the Jordanian
border had also been overstated.
As the military threat against Assad eased, so too would the
political pressure "starting with Saudi Arabia and Qatar", Nasrallah
said, pointing to two Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states who have backed
the mainly Sunni rebels battling Assad.
"I'm not saying they have changed their positions, but the strength
of their stances, the level of their intervention and the hopes that
they had, have changed a lot," he said — in contrast to what he
described as the unflinching support Assad enjoyed from his own
SYRIA WAR FUELS TENSIONS
Shi'ite Hezbollah's intervention in Syria, alongside the flow of
Sunni fighters and weapons from Lebanon to support the rebels, has
fuelled sectarian tensions inside Lebanon.
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Radical Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for car bombs which
targeted the southern Beirut suburbs where Hezbollah holds sway, and
rockets have also struck Shi'ite and Sunni towns in the Bekaa
Lebanese Sunni politicians have criticized Hezbollah,
which was set up three decades ago to fight Israeli occupation
forces in the south of the country, for wading into an Arab
But Nasrallah denied that his group's military role in Syria was
losing it popularity, saying its campaign against Syrian rebels near
the Lebanese border was helping reduce the risk of bombings inside
Even some members of Lebanon's anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition
tacitly supported the group's actions, he said.
"There is a strong popular mood which supports Hezbollah's
intervention in Syria. Many Lebanese, even within March 14, deep
down they believe and accept that intervention in Syria protects
Lebanon from these terrorist groups."
Nasrallah also said Hezbollah was responsible for a bombing of an
Israeli border patrol in March, saying the attack was in response to
an Israeli air strike against a Hezbollah target on the
Syrian-Lebanese border a month earlier.
"The Shebaa Farms bomb ... was the work of the resistance, the work
of Hezbollah," he said. "The is not the (full) response, but part of
the response to the Israeli raid."
He appeared to be referring to a March 14 incident when Israel's
military said an explosive device was detonated against Israeli
soldiers patrolling the border with Lebanon. Israel shot six mortars
into southern Lebanon in response, but no one was wounded on either
side, security and military sources said.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; editing by Andrew Heavens)
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