(CNSNews.com) – Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war has made it a target of the type of terrorism for which it is itself notorious, but the Lebanese Shi’ite group’s leader is vowing it will not be deterred in its support for Bashar Assad’s regime.
If necessary, Hassan Nasrallah said he would himself go to Syria, along with “all Hezbollah,” to join the battle against Sunni Islamist rebels fighting to topple Assad.
One of the more striking features of the Syrian conflict is the involvement of the world’s leading Shi’ite terrorist group on the side of the regime, arrayed against fighters associated with the world’s most prominent Sunni terrorist network, al-Qaeda, on the rebel side.
Sunni radicals warned Hezbollah earlier that its deployment of fighters alongside Assad’s forces in Syria would carry a price, and a car bombing in Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold on Thursday, which killed at least 21 people, was widely viewed in that light.
(That did not stop some Lebanese politicians, including U.S.-backed President Michel Sleiman, from pointing a finger at Israel.)
In a video clip posted online a Sunni Islamist group calling itself the Brigades of Aisha claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was a “second powerful message” because Hezbollah has not yet “understood,” and promising that more would follow. Another car bombing in a nearby area of Beirut six weeks ago injured dozens of people.
Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, are Shi’ite and Assad belongs to the Alawite sect of Shi’ite Islam. Opposing the regime are mostly Sunni rebel groups, among them Salafist jihadists including al-Qaeda elements. The Obama administration announced in early June that it would start providing weapons to vetted elements of the opposition; critics warn that U.S. arms could end up in the hands of jihadists including those linked to al-Qaeda.
The conflict has seen sectarian tensions escalate, with senior Sunni clerics in the region deriding Hezbollah – which means “party of Allah” – as the “party of Satan” and calling for jihad against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.
In a defiant speech to supporters, Nasrallah called Thursday’s bombing the work of “terrorists.”
“I pray for the recovery of all the wounded from the large and dangerous terrorist attack, and I offer my condolences to the families of martyrs who fell,” Nasrallah said, calling on residents of Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah holds sway, to exercise self-restraint.
To those responsible for the blast, he declared, “If you claim you are defending the Syrian people and punishing Hezbollah over its intervention in Syria, I tell you two things: You, the takfiri groups, are the harshest killers of the Syrian people. You even kidnapped and killed Christian priests who supported the opposition. You kill children and explode mosques."
Takfiri are Muslims who consider others who do not share their religious views as infidels. Many Sunni radicals view Shi’ites in that way and Nasrallah uses the term to describe jihadists fighting against the regime in Syria.
Nasrallah said bombings like those in Beirut would only harden Hezbollah’s resolve, and it would “triumph against takfiri terror.”
“If we had 1,000 fighters in Syria, they will become 2,000, and if we had 5,000, they will become 10,000,” he said. “And if the battle with those terrorists required that I go with all Hezbollah to Syria, we will all go …”
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri criticized Nasrallah’s statement, issuing a series of posts on his Twitter account saying that while the bombing in southern Beirut was a crime, “Hizballah’s war in Syria is a crime as well.”
“Terrorism is the same regardless of the faces it takes, but Hizballah explains it according to its own interests,” he said.
“How can a responsible man contradict himself so, calling for self-restraint and announcing his readiness to personally go to Syria?”
Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and a supporter of the anti-Assad opposition, wondered what Nasrallah would do when the regime falls, adding, “He is laying the foundation for a tense neighborhood with the new Syria.”
Hariri, whose father was killed in a 2005 suicide bombing blamed on Hezbollah and the Assad regime, served as prime minister from 2009 until early 2011 when he was ousted as the result of political maneuvering by Hezbollah. He has lived in self-imposed exile for the past nearly two-and-a-half years but remains the leader of Lebanon’s opposition Future Movement party.
Since it was established with Iranian help after the Islamic revolution, Hezbollah has itself been accused of involvement in multiple terrorist bombings, with targets ranging from the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut to a Jewish community center in Argentina.
The U.S. has designated the group – which styles itself the Lebanese “resistance” – as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997. Before al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11, the U.S. government held Hezbollah responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist organization in history.