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Hezbollah: Syria to provide 'game-changing' weapons

AFP

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, warned on Thursday that Syria would respond to Israel’s attacks last week by giving his group sophisticated weapons, raising fears the conflict in Syria may threaten the entire region.

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Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Thursday that Syria would respond to Israeli raids near the capital Damascus last week by supplying his group with sophisticated new weapons – the very outcome Israel said its attack was designed to avert.

“If the aim of your attack was to prevent the strengthening of the resistance’s capabilities, then Syria will give the resistance sophisticated weapons the like of which it hasn’t seen before,” he said in a televised speech. “The resistance is prepared to accept any sophisticated weaponry even if it was to break the equilibrium (in the region).”

“We are worthy of having such weapons and we would use them to defend our people and our country and our holy sites,” Nasrallah said.

Israel launched a series of raids near the Syrian capital last Friday and followed up with air strikes early on Sunday morning, which shook the city and lit up the horizon.

Western and Israeli sources said its aim was to take out “game-changing” Iranian missiles destined for the Lebanese Shiite group, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and has also acted as a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his struggle against a two-year revolt.

Syria is a pivotal ally of the regional Shiite power Iran and believed to serve as its conduit to Hezbollah. Israel fears the group could act as a proxy for Iran along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

"It’s certainly going to add to the already tense situation," says US Institute of Peace fellow Robin Wright

Nasrallah’s comments, along with last week’s Israeli strikes, have raised growing concerns that as the conflict in Syria seeps over the country’s borders, it could threaten the region as a whole.

“It’s certainly going to add to the already tense situation, particularly after Israel’s two air strikes against, reportedly, Iranian weapons targets inside Syria,” Robin Wright, a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, told FRANCE 24. “The fact that the head of Hezbollah has now claimed that the Syrians are going to provide additional weaponry that is game-changing, bringing Israel once again into the Syrian arena, is going to make things much more difficult for the international community”.

Wright added that another reason for concern was the fact that Nasrallah has “a long reputation for actually being pretty candid about what they’re doing”.

“He’s not normally a braggart,” she said. “He does not make false claims. Usually when he says something, it happens.”

‘Liberating the Golan’

Lebanon and Syria have technically been in a state of war with Israel since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, though Syria has kept its frontier with Israel, along the Golan Heights, quiet for decades.

In the days following Israeli strikes last Friday and Sunday, Syrian state media quoted unnamed sources saying that Damascus had given the green light for operations against Israel from the Golan, although so far there have been no clear signs of increased militarization.

On Thursday, Syrian officials said they would respond “immediately” to any future Israeli strike. Soon after, Nasrallah said his forces would join a Syrian military operation against Israel.

“We announce that we stand with the Syrian popular resistance and offer material and spiritual support as well as coordination in order to liberate the Syrian Golan,” Nasrallah said.

The Golan in recent months has become a battleground between Assad’s forces and the rebels fighting to topple him.

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 70,000 people and become increasingly sectarian.

Majority Sunni Muslims lead the revolt, while Assad has received the bulk of his support from minorities, particularly his own Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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