Syria’s opposition has denounced what it called “threats” from the head of the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, and warned against any intervention by the movement or by Iran in the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) statement on Wednesday comes after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Syrian rebels will not be able to defeat President Bashar al-Assad’s regime militarily.
“The Syrians and the Lebanese hoped … that the Hezbollah leadership would stop their attacks on Homs and Damascus and take into account the gravity of the situation in the region,” the SNC said in a statement.
“But they heard nothing but threats… and warnings against setting the region on fire and an admission of their interference in Syrian affairs.”
Nasrallah, speaking in a televised address on Tuesday, said that Syria had “real friends in the region”, insinuating that his Iranian-backed armed group would intervene on the government’s side if the need arises.
The powerful Shia group is known to be backing Syrian regime fighters in Shia villages near the Lebanon border against the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad.
He also said that accusations that the regime had used chemical weapons were an attempt to justify foreign intervention in Syria, “as other countries have been destroyed in the past”.
“The goal of what is happening in Syria isn’t only to remove Syria from the axis of resistance, as we used to say, or to remove it from the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Nasrallah.
“The goal is no longer to take control of the country from the current regime. The goal of all those who stand behind the war in Syria is to destroy Syria as a state, as a people, as a society and an army,” he said.
“They don’t want a strong state or army in Syria – they want it to be a failed state, to have no control over its resources.”
More support for Assad
But Nasrallah’s comments were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get more substantially involved to rescue Assad’s embattled regime.
“Syria has real friends in the region, and the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel,” Nasrallah said.
“There are people (Hezbollah fighters) who defend this shrine and some who die defending this shrine. Through their defence, they are preventing sectarian strife. This shrine is for all Muslims; we are not accusing the Sunnis,” said Nasrallah.
Hezbollah and Iran are close allies of Assad. Both have been accused by rebels of sending fighters to assist Syrian troops trying to crush the two-year-old Syrian uprising.
Nasrallah also suggested his fighters were in Syria to protect the holy Shia shrine of Sayida Zeinab, south of Damascus.
He said rebels were able to capture several villages around the shrine and there were gunmen deployed hundreds of metres away from the shrine who have threatened to destroy it.
While there has been growing speculation about Hezbollah’s role in the conflict next door, the violence inside Syria has raged on, including in the capital, where a powerful bomb on Tuesday ripped through a bustling commercial district, killing at least 14 people.
The blast shattered store fronts, set cars ablaze and brought Syria’s civil war to the heart of Damascus for the second consecutive day.
On Monday, the Syrian prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt after a car bomb targeted his convoy as it drove through an upmarket Damascus neighbourhood.
The bombings appear to be part of an accelerated campaign by opposition forces to hit Assad’s regime in the heavily defended capital.