Hezbollah fighter, five Syrian rebels killed on border

Sun Feb 17, 2013 1:24pm EST
 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Laila Bassam

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least two Hezbollah guerrillas and five Syrian rebels have been killed in fighting in Syria on the border with Lebanon, Lebanese residents and Syrian opposition sources said on Sunday.

The clash between Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah and Sunni Muslim rebels, in a religiously-mixed area southwest of the city of Homs, shows a growing role for Hezbollah in Syria's war, which is deepening the Middle East's sectarian divide.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah, one of Lebanon's strongest factions, is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Fighting began on Saturday as Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, in control of eight Syrian border villages, tried to move into three adjacent villages held by Syrian Free Army rebels, said Hadi al-Abdallah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

Syrian helicopters fired rockets at rebel positions to support the advancing Hezbollah unit, which included pro-Assad militia recruited from the villages it controls, residents said.

"The Hezbollah force moved on foot and was supported by multiple rocket launchers. The Free Syrian Army had to call in two tanks that had been captured from the Assad army to repel the attack," Abdallah told Reuters by phone.

The villages of Burhanieh, Abu Houri and Safarja defended by the rebels lie on smuggling routes. Many locals have Syrian and Lebanese nationality and property on both sides of the border.

Hezbollah guerrillas, based in the Bekaa Valley on the other side of the undemarcated border, moved into the area last year.   Continued...