Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
Syria’s crackdown is intensifying old divisions in neighboring Lebanon, where
the ruling pro-Damascus bloc led by Hezbollah is pitted in a war of words, with
opposition groups denouncing the violent five-month
Some 800 people took to the streets of the Lebanese
capital Monday to rally against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and police were
called in to contain the smaller pro-Syrian rallies that followed. The protest
was largely peaceful, with demonstrators shouting, “Syria wants freedom,”
“Anyone who kills his people is a murderer and a coward,” and “the people want
an end to the regime,” Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper reported.
Assad vows no mercy in pursuing 'terrorist groups'
in several locations in Syria this week protesters enraged at Hezbollah’s
support for Damascus burned the extremist group’s flags and images of its leader
Hezbollah has supported popular uprisings in Egypt,
Yemen, Bahrain and Tunisia – but publicly sided with Iran and Syria in their own
violent repressions of dissent.
“Hezbollah always criticizes the double
standards of the West, but it has done worse,” Amjad, a protester from the
Syrian city of Hama, told the Associated Press. “We feel betrayed.”
ended its three-decade military and political occupation of Syria in 2005, but
Lebanese politics remain divided along lines of loyalty to Damascus and its
benefactor Iran. Those rivalries – many rooted in old enmities of ethnicity and
religion – have now been exacerbated by the seemingly open-ended turmoil
unfolding next door.
Much of the debate is playing out in Lebanon’s
feisty, sectarian press.
On Tuesday, the pan-Arab daily As-Safir
Prime Minister Najib Mikati – derided by the opposition as a Hezbollah puppet –
insisting Lebanon would maintain “neutrality” over Syria, and defended its
recent abstention from a UN Security Council condemnation of the Assad
Michel Aoun, head of the predominantly Christian,
Hezbollah-linked Free Patriotic Movement, dismissed the Syrian uprising as
“minor incidents in a neighborhood or two in Homs.”
Aoun, a former
Lebanese army commander, accused the West of trying to divide Syria to serve the
interests of Israel by pushing Damascus to cut ties with Iran, and with the
Islamic Republic’s proxies Hezbollah and Hamas.
The same day, Lebanese
Armed Forces Chief Samir Geagea told the left-wing daily Al-Akhbar
would have voted in favor of a condemnation had the government not been
dominated by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
“If Lebanon was under a
different government we would have placed sanctions on the Syrian regime,”
, a paper founded by slain ex-premier Rafik
Hariri and supportive of Hariri’s son Saad’s opposition alliance, slammed
Lebanon’s failure to denounce the Assad government’s “massacres.” The younger
Hariri praised the uprising, telling the paper of the Syrian people’s
“legitimate right to freedom, reform and change.” (Four Hezbollah operatives
have been summoned by a special UN tribunal on charges of involvement in Rafik
Hariri’s 2005 assassination.) Hezbollah has walked a fine line in reacting to
the Syrian uprising. Though it has unwaveringly backed Assad, the group rejected
outright any charges that it has contributed its own fighters to the
Nasrallah has commented comparatively little about
Syria recently, apparently changing tack after a miscalculated comment early in
the uprising earned him the opprobrium of disaffected Syrians.
the resistance regime in Syria, which is ready for reform, would provide a great
service to Israel and to US-American control over the region,” he said several
Hezbollah owes much of its popularity in Lebanon and the
region to its image as the torchbearer in the fight against Israel.
with four of its members wanted for the murder of a prime minister, and its own
leader backing a foreign ruler killing thousands of his own citizens – Hezbollah
may need more than slogans of “resistance” to maintain its grip on Lebanon.