x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lebanon tells Hizbollah to pull its fighters out of Syria

The Lebanese president has called on the Shiite Hizbollah movement to pull its guerrillas out of Syria, saying any further involvement in its neighbour's civil war would fuel instability in Lebanon.

BEIRUT // The Lebanese president called on the Shiite Hizbollah movement to pull its guerrillas out of Syria, saying any further involvement in its neighbour's civil war would fuel instability in Lebanon.

Hizbollah militants spearheaded the recapture of the strategic border town of Qusayr two weeks ago by forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, which now appear to be preparing for an offensive in the northern city of Aleppo.

"If they take part in a battle for Aleppo, and more Hizbollah fighters are killed, it will lead to more tension," Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese president, told the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. "This should end in Qusayr, and should return home."

Hizbollah's intervention in Syria against mainly Sunni rebels has further inflamed sectarian rivalry in Lebanon, where fighting between Alawite pro-Assad and Sunni anti-Assad gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli has killed dozens.

Since the battle for Qusayr started a month ago, there have been frequent rocket attacks on Shiite areas of eastern Lebanon from rebel-held areas in Syria. A previously unknown Syrian rebel faction claimed responsibility this week for killing four Shiite men in the Bekaa Valley on Sunday.

Lebanon is mired in political paralysis, which has forced the delay of a parliamentary election and is holding up efforts to form a cabinet. The impasse, along with the influx of half a million Syrian refugees, led the former prime minister, Fouad Siniora, to appeal to Mr Suleiman this week to act to stop "state collapse".

Mr Suleiman, a Maronite Christian, has become increasingly assertive in criticising Syria, which dominated its smaller neighbour militarily and politically for three decades before the outbreak of the uprising against Mr Al Assad in 2011.

Lebanon's National News Agency said Mr Suleiman sent the Arab League a memorandum yesterday requesting an end to Syrian violations of Lebanese sovereignty. He gave a similar note to the United Nations representative in Beirut earlier this week.

Mr Suleiman has spoken out against Syrian military incursions into eastern Lebanon against rebel forces.