BEIRUT – The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group vowed to help propel President Bashar Assad to victory in Syria’s bloody civil war, warning that the fall of the Damascus regime would give rise to extremists and plunge the Middle East into a “dark period.”
In a televised address, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah also said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas along the Lebanese border. He pledged that Hezbollah will turn the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor, and stay as long as necessary to do so.
“We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices,” he said. “We will be victorious.”
The Hezbollah leader’s comments offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the Iranian-backed group is directly involved in Syria’s war. They also were Nasrallah’s first remarks since Hezbollah fighters have pushed to the front lines of the battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese frontier.
The fighting in Qusair, which government troops backed by Hezbollah pounded with artillery on Saturday, has laid bare the Lebanese Shiite group’s growing role in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah initially tried to play down its involvement, but could no longer do so after dozens of its fighters were killed in the town and buried in large funerals in Lebanon.
Nasrallah, who was speaking on the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, used his speech in part to brace the community for the possibility of more of its men returning home in coffins.
The fight in Qusair has proven a deadly grind for both sides. On Saturday, government forces backed by Hezbollah militants shelled the town in the heaviest barrage yet of a weeklong assault to dislodge rebels from the opposition stronghold, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 30 people, including 27 rebels, were killed and dozens wounded Saturday in the town, which holds strategic importance for both the regime and the opposition.
The Syrian government has been one of Hezbollah’s strongest backers for decades.