Hezbollah under fire

Al-Nusra Front

BEIRUT – Al-Nusra Front on Sunday launched a blistering surprise raid on Hezbollah positions outside the eastern Beqaa town of Brital, killing a number of fighters in the most serious cross-border attack on the party since the start of the Syrian war.


The exact circumstances of the battle remain unclear days afterward, with Al-Nusra Front announcing in a video released Monday that it killed eleven fighters in a Hezbollah position in Umm Kharaj outside Brital.


The group had said the attack was launched from the Syrian border town of Asal al-Ward, a claim confirmed by Lebanon’s state National News Agency, whose terse report on the incident said that a “number” of militants had been killed in clashes outside the Brital town of Nabi Sbat as well as the mountains around the village of Ham.


The YouTube compilation of the Al-Nusra Front attack shows the fighters advancing toward their target in jeeps and firing mortars on the position, after which the Al-Qaeda-linked militants move through the small outpost amid the corpses of apparent Hezbollah fighters.


The fighters in the video seized a weapons cache, with Al-Nusra Front saying it had taken a US-manufactured TOW wire-guided anti-tank launcher, a 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun, a B10 grenade launcher and a number of firearms.


Al-Nusra Front portrayed the operation as a victory, announcing in the end of their video that only one of its militants had been killed in the attack, while another was injured. The final shots of the video included a panorama purportedly showing Brital, as the group warned it was “on the outskirts” of the town.


Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reported a different version of the battle, saying the party’s fighters repulsed a large attack outside Brital conducted by “hundreds” of jihadists and killed a substantial number of them in the process.


The station also reported that the Lebanese army participated in shelling Islamist positions, but the army itself did not issue any official statement confirming the report.


Unconfirmed media reports citing Hezbollah sources said that a number of the party’s positions had been attacked, but no independent verification was forthcoming.


The number of Hezbollah casualties also remains murky; however, the pro-Hezbollah Moqawama.org website announced the deaths of at least seven party members in the fighting, identifying them as Ahmad Hussein Saleh, Maher Zeaiter, Nizar Ahmad Tarraf, Fouad Mohammad Said Mortada, Hamza Mounir Aaqsa, and Mohammad Qassem al-Qalamouni, all of whom hailed from the Beqaa.


Political repercussions


Hezbollah officials hailed their party’s fighters after the battles, and claimed a victory over Islamists in defense of Lebanon.


“The resistance, which is alert day and night, has foiled the plans of the Takfiri groups to target our towns and villages in the Beqaa,” Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said on Monday at a commemorative ceremony in the town of Tebnin in South Lebanon’s Jabal Amel area.


“It has proved, once again, that it the nation’s shield, and is always ready to bring defeat to any aggressor who tries to target our country, whether that is on the southern or northern border.”


At a funeral ceremony for two slain Hezbollah fighters, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan—also a member of the Shiite party—said “the blood of our martyrs that was planted in the ground has protected and still protects Lebanon from the danger of takfiris.”


Ali al-Amin, a Shiite Lebanese journalist and analyst, argued that as fighting has swung from Syria into Lebanon, Hezbollah “needs to present to its supporters the image it has always [maintained], which is to always be victorious.”


He added in an interview with NOW that Hezbollah’s media campaign will focus on “soothing the anxiety that emerged following the clashes in Arsal” which saw Islamists first enter Lebanon military in early August battles against the army.


“On the general political level, Hezbollah is trying to legitimize its fight [against] these Islamist groups, and force the Lebanese people to say they need Hezbollah to defend them.”


Amin added that the “shift of the battles between Hezbollah and the Islamists from Syria to Lebanon increased the anxiety of its supporters, but Hezbollah’s popularity will not be affected and its supporters will not disavow the party.


“However, more voices will call on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria and defend Lebanese areas instead of towns in Syria affiliated with the regime.”


Following the Brital battles, Hezbollah’s March 14 alliance rivals reiterated their criticism of the Shiite party for its role fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and called on the state to take full responsibility for protecting the troubled border region.


March 14’s General Secretariat said Monday that Hezbollah’s presence on the border would encourage “illegitimate groups to take up arms,” adding that only the government should have the authority to defend the country.


Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who refused to join the government alongside Hezbollah, called on the cabinet to demand the Shiite party withdraw from the fighting in Syria.

Al-Nusra Front's video of its attack on a Hezbollah position. (YouTube)

  • stormy

    It is true, that attack was for revenge, to Syrian Camp bombarded by Hezbollah. But the previous experience, that put them right in the Face of Lebanese Armed Forces, and realized the Trap, that Hezbollah put the Army to confront Al Nusra. Could be the motive to attack Hezbollah Bunkers, close to the Shiite Town Brital, as a scenario, for coming attacks, specially they got more than they expected in defeating Hezbollah on its grounds., and by the same time avoided to combat with the Lebanese Army. khaled-stormydemocracy

    October 8, 2014