The Free Syrian Army is poised to launch a military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon after a top commander on Wednesday formally confirmed a 48-hour ultimatum for the Shiite group to stop “firing” on rebel positions in the Homs province.
"As soon as the ultimatum ends, we will start responding to [Hezbollah] sources of fire," FSA chief of staff General Salim Idriss told AFP.
Idriss said that rebel fighters in the Qusayr area would fire back while the FSA would "mobilize fighters equipped with long-range weapons from other areas.”
"Hezbollah is abusing Lebanese sovereignty to shell Syrian territory and Free Syrian Army positions.”
The FSA also said it had asked Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Premier Najib Miqati to intervene, the commander said, but the PM’s denied to AFP any contact with the Syrian rebels.
The timing of the ultimatum remains unclear, with NOW first reporting the 48-hour deadline on Tuesday morning after FSA spokesperson Louay Almokdad posted the warning statement on his Facebook page.
However, Idriss was the first top FSA military commander to issue the warning publicly in comments on Wednesday morning to Al-Arabiya and then in the evening to AFP.
The FSA statement originally issued Tuesday warned Lebanese in the northern Beqaa town of Hermel to avoid Hezbollah military sites and rocket launching positions.
Also on Wednesday, an official in Homs called on Lebanese in the country’s predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli and the Beqaa town of Arsal to target Hezbollah.
“We hope that [Tripoli and Arsal residents] will… cut [Hezbollah’s] supply lines to Syria, and that they will [seek to prevent] Hezbollah from shelling their positions,” Hadi al-Abdallah said in a video posted on YouTube.
The Syria rebel ended his message to the Lebanese by urging them to “provide the rebels with weapons and ammunition.
Meanwhile, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Syrian Revolution General Commission as saying that Hezbollah was sending reinforcements to Lebanese villages along the border with Syria and setting up operational centers.
Also, Turkish Anadolu news agency reported that Hezbollah has announced that its ranks are now on full alert in eight overlapping Lebanese-Syrian border towns.
On Sunday, three Lebanese Shiites were killed in clashes in Syria, a source close to Hezbollah said, as the opposition accused the militant group of fighting alongside its regime allies.
Just hours earlier, the main bloc of the Syrian opposition accused the Damascus ally of having intervened "militarily" on the side of the regime, and warned this posed a threat to ties between neighbors Syria and Lebanon.
Hezbollah has systematically denied sending fighters into Syria, though its leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged in October 2012 that party members had fought Syrian rebels but said they were acting as individuals and not under the group's direction.
Lebanon is sharply divided over the Syrian conflict, with the Sunni-led March 14 movement supporting the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite Hezbollah and its allies backing the regime.