x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Syrian opposition wants Hizbollah leaders to face trial

Opposition welcomes European Union's decision to blacklist Hizbollah's military wing and says leaders of the Lebanese Shiite movement should be put on trial for their role in the Syrian war.

BEIRUT // The Syrian opposition yesterday welcomed the European Union's decision to blacklist Hizbollah's military wing and said that leaders of the Lebanese Shiite movement should be put on trial for their role in the Syrian war.

The "National Coalition believes this is a step in the right direction and highlights the need for the European Union to take measures to stop Hizbollah's militia from intervening in Syria", the opposition group said.

Backed by Iran, Hizbollah's guerrillas are fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Al Assad's forces.

The National Coalition called for "Hizbollah officials to be brought to justice for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian soil".

"The free world must take preventive measures against Hezbollah's leaders, members and supporters, who participated in the spilling of Syrian blood," said the coalition, describing Hizbollah's involvement in Syria as going "against the aspirations for freedom and dignity of the Syrian people."

Hizbollah fighters and Mr Al Assad's troops reclaimed last month the former rebel bastion of Qusayr in central Syria after a fierce fight with rebels.

The EU decision came after some of its 28 foreign ministers overcame reservations in some member states that such a move would further destabilise Lebanon where the militant group plays a major role.

To do so, ministers agreed that EU political and economic links with Lebanon would be maintained.

They also highlighted the fact that it is the military wing alone that is blacklisted after Hizbollah was blamed for a deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year.

Iran, meanwhile, said the EU's decision was "strange" and "uncalculated" and said it serves Israel's interests.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told a news conference in Tehran yesterday that the designation would not change Hizbollah's "popular and justice-seeking identity".

In Syria, a group with links to Al Qaeda warned civilians to stay off a road linking central Syria with the northern province of Aleppo, declaring it a military zone, as the rebels try to cut one of the regime's main routes for supplying its forces in the north, activists said yesterday.

The warning comes a day after rebels went on the offensive in Syria's north, seizing three villages in the province where a military stalemate has been in place since last summer.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center said that Jabhat Al Nusra is threatening to target any vehicle using the road starting today. A copy of the warning was posted online.

The regime uses the route to ferry supplies to its forces in the north because the rebels already have severed the main north-south motorway that connects Damascus with the embattled city of Aleppo, where regime forces have battled rebels in vicious street fighting for a year. The desert road was paved and opened by regime forces earlier this year.

The statement, which was stamped with the Nusra emblem, said the Syrian military "opened this road to civilian cars and lorries when in fact it is a military road".

"There are daily clashes and military operations there. Holy warriors have booby-trapped the road," it said, instructing civilians not to use the road and claiming that the army will be using them as "human shields to cover its movements".

If the rebels succeed in cutting the road, it will be a major blow to the regime, making it more difficult to bring in military reinforcements as well as other supplies to Aleppo province, most of which is under rebel control.


* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press