By: Martin Chulov
BEIRUT, Lebanon – ONE of Hezbollah’s most senior operatives has been killed in Syria and buried in his home village in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the militant group has confirmed.
Ali Hussein Nassif, a founding member of the organisation, was killed at the weekend in Al-Qusayr, a town between the Syrian city of Homs and the Lebanese border, in what is believed to have been a roadside bomb explosion.
A Lebanese government official confirmed that his body had been transferred from Syria through the Masnaa border crossing.
Hezbollah has openly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising began, a fact that has lost it widespread support in the Arab world, where it was once revered as leading resistance to Israel. The Shiite Islamist movement relies on Syria as a link to its main patron, Iran.
Media outlets loyal to Hezbollah, including al-Manar television and the moqawama.org website, both carried stories acknowledging Nassif’s death, which they said had happened as he ”carried out his jihad duties”. The reports did not specify where he had been killed.
Officials in Nassif’s home village of Buday suggested that seven other Hezbollah members had recently been wounded in Syria.
A separate report claimed that a second Hezbollah member, Zain al-Abidin Mustafa, had also been killed ”while carrying out his obligation”. Senior party officials are reported to have travelled from Beirut to attend his funeral in the party’s heartland of Baalbek.
For most of the past 18 months, Hezbollah had steadfastly denied that its members were in action alongside Syrian forces, despite accusations by Syrian rebel groups and opposition figures.
But new graves in cemeteries in Lebanon designated for members deemed to have died as martyrs have been dug throughout the northern summer. There has also been reported discontent among family members who had lost relatives.
Reports of Nassif’s funeral appear to mark a departure from a tactic of secrecy.
Hezbollah’s presence in Syria potentially amplifies a sectarian dimension of the now raging civil war. The anti-regime insurgency is led by the country’s Sunni majority.
A steadily increasing number of Sunni jihadists from outside Syria have also joined the fray since mid-July. The Assad regime has claimed since April 2011 that the popular uprising against it was an Islamist plot.
Some defectors from the Syrian military have provided accounts of Hezbollah members being deployed alongside them while they were still serving in the Syrian army.
Two defectors who spoke to Britain’s Guardian newspaper in August said they had seen Hezbollah operatives in Homs and in the countryside near Al-Qusayr, 15 kilometres from the Lebanese border.
”They were very open about who they were and why they were there,” one of the men said in the Turkish town of Reyhanli. ”They said they were there for jihad and to help Assad defeat the terrorists.”
■ Up to 40 people were killed and as many as 90 wounded, most of them soldiers, when three car bombs struck the heart of the Syrian city of Aleppo yesterday. The bombs exploded around Saadallah al-Jabiri Square, near a military officers’ club and a hotel.
Source: The Guardian