Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Syrian rebels issue Hezbollah warning

ULTIMATUM: The Lebanon-based group, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was told to cease attacks or face return fire, as fighting raged across Syria

AFP, DAMASCUS

A commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), issuing a 48-hour ultimatum, has warned his forces will target Lebanon’s Hezbollah unless the militant group stops shelling territory held by the insurgents.

The threat was issued on Wednesday after the outgunned rebel fighters shot down a regime warplane following a deadly airstrike that killed 20 people in a Damascus province town.

General Selim Idriss, the FSA chief of staff, told reporters on Wednesday that Hezbollah had long been taking part in hostilities in Syria, but had gone too far by shelling villages near Qusayr in Homs Province from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

“Hezbollah is abusing Lebanese sovereignty to shell Syrian territory and Free Syrian Army positions,” Idriss said.

“In the past week ... Hezbollah has been shelling into villages around Qusayr from Lebanese territory, and that we cannot accept,” he added.

The commander said the rebels were giving Hezbollah a 48-hour deadline to stop the attacks and “as soon as the ultimatum ends, we will start responding to the sources of fire.”

Rebels in the Qusayr area would be backed by FSA fighters “equipped with long-range weapons from other areas,” he said.

The FSA had also asked the Lebanese president and premier to intervene, Idriss said, but the office of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati denied any contact with the Syrian rebels.

Hezbollah has repeatedly denied sending fighters into Syria, though its leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged in October last year that party members had fought Syrian rebels but said they were acting as individuals and not under the group’s direction.

Lebanon is sharply divided over the Syrian conflict, with the Sunni-led March 14 movement supporting the revolt and the Shiite Hezbollah and its allies backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Wednesday, a Lebanese military judge demanded the death penalty for former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha and Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk, who face charges of plotting attacks on political and religious figures in Lebanon.

Samaha, a Christian politician with close links to the Damascus regime, was accused of stoking sectarian strife in Lebanon.

On the ground in Syria, rebels managed to shoot down a warplane in Hammuriyeh, after an airstrike on the central town killed 20 people, including a woman and child, a watchdog and activists said.

Amateur video shot by activists and distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed a warplane firing from the sky and then going down in flames after apparently being hit.

Lacking sophisticated weaponry, rebels have frequently used heavy machine guns to shoot down warplanes deployed to strike insurgent enclaves across the country.

An unverified video filmed by activists in Hammuriyeh and posted on Facebook showed residents in the aftermath of the strike pouring water on a burning corpse on the ground, and another two in destroyed vehicles.

In Damascus, a footballer was killed and four others wounded when two mortar rounds smashed into a stadium in the capital, a sports official told reporters.

State news agency SANA blamed “terrorists” for the attack.

The day before, mortar rounds fired by the rebels had exploded near the southern wall of Tishreen presidential palace, one of three official residencies in the capital.

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