- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 2, 2012

BEIRUT — A Hezbollah commander and several other fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group have been killed in Syria, a senior Lebanese security official and Syrian activists said Tuesday.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, is a strong ally of President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime and has long been accused by the Syrian opposition of assisting Damascus in its crackdown on the 18-month-old uprising — a claim the group repeatedly has denied.

The security official said Hezbollah commander Ali Hussein Nassif’s body was returned to Lebanon through the Masnaa border crossing on Sunday. Speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, he said the bodies of several other Hezbollah fighters have been brought back to Lebanon in the past few days.

It was not immediately clear how the militants were killed or whether they had been fighting alongside the Syrian army.

Samer al-Homsi, an activist in Syria’s central Homs province, which borders Lebanon, said Nassif was killed Saturday when a roadside bomb hit the car in which he was riding near the town of Qusair. He said Nassif and several other people were killed in the blast, which also damaged the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Syria’s state-run media unleashed a scathing attack on the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, accusing him of turning his back on Mr. Assad and describing him as ungrateful and traitorous.

In an editorial aired late Monday, Syrian TV said Khaled Mashaal, who pulled Hamas‘ headquarters out of Damascus early this year, had abandoned the resistance movement against Israel and the United States. The comments show just how deeply ties between Hamas and the Syrian regime — once staunch allies — have frayed since the anti-Assad uprising erupted 18 months ago.

The regime’s verbal attack appeared to be prompted by Mr. Mashaal’s decision to take part in a major conference Sunday of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. Mr. Erdogan has been one of Mr. Assad’s sharpest critics.

Less than two years ago, Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah were part of what they called an “axis of resistance” against Israel and the United States. With Hamas‘ departure, they lost a major Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip.

Relations between Mr. Assad’s regime and Hamas have been disintegrating ever since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011 with protests demanding reforms.

It has devolved into a brutal civil war, and activists say more than 30,000 people have been killed so far.

Hamas initially staked out a neutral position toward the uprising. But as the estimated 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria became increasingly outraged over the regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters, Hamas came under pressure for its cozy ties with the government, prompting the group in February to shift its stance and praise Syrians for “moving toward democracy and reform.”

Since then, most Hamas leaders have left Syria for Egypt, where their allies in the Muslim Brotherhood have taken power in elections following the successful uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has been a strong critic of Mr. Assad and his government, calling them an “oppressive regime.”