The chief of Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed on Sunday that the group would prevail against extremists fighting in neighbouring Syria.
“We will win this battle, God willing,” he insisted, after describing the group’s role in the conflict in Syria as a fight against “takfiris” — extremist Sunni Muslims.
Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, has dispatched fighters to the conflict to bolster government troops, finally admitting their presence in April 2013.
Nasrallah has regularly defended the decision by saying Hezbollah is countering jihadist fighters, although extremists make up only a portion of those fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.
He devoted much of the lengthy address to defending the group’s involvement in Syria, which has drawn accusations from some in Lebanon that the group is entangling the country in the war next door.
“It’s a question of time,” he said of Hezbollah’s victory in the fight.
“Planning and preparations… exist, but it’s a question of time,” he added during the televised address to commemorate the assassination of three senior Hezbollah members.
He described the fight in Syria, which a Britain-based monitoring group estimates has killed several hundred Hezbollah members, as a “decisive, historic battle”.
Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has been controversial in Lebanon, where many Shiites back the Syrian regime and many Sunnis support the Sunni-dominated uprising.
Hezbollah’s strongholds in Beirut and elsewhere have been targeted in a string of car and suicide bomb attacks that have killed civilians, with jihadist groups saying the blasts are revenge for the Shiite movement’s role in the Syria conflict.
– ‘Danger threatens all Lebanese’ –
Nasrallah said the attacks, and others in Syria against religious minorities, proved that the group needed to fight extremism in Syria to protect Lebanon.
“If the armed groups control Syria, what will Lebanon’s future be?” he asked.
“Where are your priests, where are your nuns, where are your statues of the Virgin Mary?” he added, referring to Syrian priests and nuns kidnapped by extremists, who have also desecrated churches.
“This is a danger that threatens all Lebanese… If they (jihadists) have the opportunity to control the border regions, their goal will be to transform Lebanon into a part of their Islamic state,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 275 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria, where they are currently battling rebels in the Qalamun region near the border with Lebanon.
Syria’s army, reportedly backed by Hezbollah fighters, has launched operations to seize the last rebel stronghold in the region, the town of Yabrud.
Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese army have said several of the car bombs sent into Lebanon have originated in the town.
Nasrallah also addressed the formation of a new government this week, after a vacuum of more than 10 months.
The government will include both Hezbollah and its allies and the opposition March 14 coalition.
But seats will be equally distributed between the two sides and centrist candidates to prevent any group from having a veto over the other.
Nasrallah said his party would work with the new government in “a positive spirit” but clarified that it was a “government of national interest, not a unity government.”