The leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement on Tuesday publicly acknowledged for the first time that fighters from the group were aiding the Syrian regime in its bloody war with armed rebel groups.
In a televised address Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said the fighters had gone to protect Lebanese living in villages around the Syrian town of al-Qusayr, near the border
"A large number [of anti-government rebels] were preparing to capture villages inhabited by Lebanese... so it was normal to offer every possible and necessary aid to help the Syrian army [and] popular committees [pro-government militias] and the Lebanese," Mr Nasrallah was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
The speech was broadcast by al-Manhar, the TV station affiliated with Hezbollah. The Shiite organization is listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist group, but its political wing has seats in the Lebanese parliament.
Mr. Nasrallah's warnings raised the specter of Hezbollah involving itself in the conflict, risking further destabilization of Lebanon, a small nation already roiled by an influx of Syrian refugees.
Many Lebanese fear being engulfed by the conflict in their much larger neighbor, which is breaking along confessional lines paralleled in their own politics.
The Islamic sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, the Alawites, are Shiites. Alawites and Christians constitute the large majority of the Damascus regime's remaining supporters in Syria.
And both communities also have links to their coreligionists in Lebanon -- including the Shiite base of Hezbollah.
Mr. Nasrallah warned the Syrian opposition, "You will not be able to take Damascus by force and you will not be able to topple the regime militarily."
He predicted the conflict would be "a long battle" and characterized the opposition as consisting of proxies for Washington and Israel -- recognizable, all-purpose bogeymen to his audience -- and extremists from the Shia's rival Islamic sect, the Sunni.
"Syria has real friends in the region and in the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel or Takfiri groups," he said, referring to Sunni extremist militias, including one linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
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