'UK envoy to Beirut: Stay neutral toward Syria'

Report: Tom Fletcher expresses concern over Lebanese policy amid growing involvement of Hezbollah fighters in Syrian crisis.

June 1, 2013 02:50
2 minute read.
Supporters of Hezbollah, carry the coffin during funeral in Nabi Sheet near Baalbeck May 20, 2013.

Hezbollah coffin in Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Britain's ambassador to Lebanon urged the government in Beirut to remain neutral in Syria's conflict in order to uphold national interests, Lebanon's The Daily Star reported on Saturday.

Tom Fletcher reportedly expressed concern over the increasing involvement of Hezbollah operatives in fighting in Syria.

“I raised our concerns about the role of Lebanese fighters in Syria. It is of great sadness that Iran is now sending sons of Lebanon to die for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” he was quoted as saying after a meeting with caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The United Nations' human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday that a dramatic increase in the role of Iran-backed Hezbollah militants backing Syrian government forces was inflaming regional tensions, without giving numbers.

Fabius pointed the finger at Iran for pushing Hezbollah into the Syrian conflict.

"When you have fighters that are really well-armed that are prepared to die and they are several thousand that makes a difference," he said.

France said on Wednesday its intelligence services believed 3,000-4,000 guerrillas from Hezbollah's militia were fighting alongside Assad's army in Syria's civil war.

"As far as Hezbollah militants present in the battlefield, the figures range from 3,000 to 10,000, our estimates are between 3,000 and 4,000," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers.

The acting head of Syria's opposition coalition said on Friday it would stay out of any international peace talks as long as Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas were fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces.

However, it was not clear if the statement by George Sabra was the fragmented organization's final word.

Russia and the United States are trying to draw Assad's representatives and his opponents into planned talks in Geneva on forming a transitional government in an effort to end more than two years of bloodshed.

"The Syrian Coalition will not participate in international conferences and will not support any efforts in light of Hezbollah and Iran's militia's invasion of Syria," Sabra said.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that his group would stay in the Syrian war "to the end of the road" and bring victory to its ally Assad.

Nasrallah, speaking in a televised speech, said that Syria and Lebanon were facing a threat from radical Sunni Islamists, which he argued was a plot devised by the United States and its allies to serve Israel's interests in the region.

"We will not rely on anyone ... like all the battles before this one: We will be its people, its men, and we will be the ones who bring it victory," he said, speaking from an undisclosed location.

"We will continue to the end of the road, we accept this responsibility and will accept all sacrifices and expected consequences of this position," he said in the televised footage, which showed thousands of cheering people watching him on big screens in the Lebanese town of Mashgara.

Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.

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