Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday said his militant group based in Lebanon plans to launch an attack inside Syria against Muslim extremist insurgents in the mountain region along the border.
Local media outlets and Syrian opposition have speculated that such an assault could start within days in the Qalamoun area, and Hezbollah fighters clashed with armed militants from the same Syria-based insurgent group, the al-Nusra Front, in a different border zone on Tuesday.
The attack “will announce itself when it happens,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
It would be in Qalamoun, but “as for its goal, place or where it will extend to... This … we do not declare now,” he added.
Lebanese officials have cautioned Hezbollah against launching a cross-border attack, which they say would drag Lebanon further into Syria’s conflict.
The Shiite Muslim group is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has sent hundreds of combatants to fight alongside his forces in Syria’s four-year civil war. It has lost dozens of fighters, including several commanders, in battles in Syria.
A Hezbollah incursion could also put at risk the lives of Lebanese soldiers and police officers taken captive along the border last year by the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, officials say.
Fighting from Syria has spilled into Lebanon several times in recent years, with car and suicide bombings in Beirut, fighting in the northern city of Tripoli and rocket attacks on Bekaa Valley towns close to the frontier.
Al-Nusra Front fighters have regularly been active in areas close to the Syrian border and have targeted Hezbollah and Lebanese army positions in the past.
Casualties from Tuesday’s clashes, on the Lebanese side of the border near the mountain towns of Toufeil and Britel, were “very high,” a Hezbollah source told reporters.
There was no immediate reaction from the al-Nusra Front, which has recently been on the offensive in northwestern Syria and took the city of Idlib this month for the first time in the conflict.
Nasrallah played down the importance of recent setbacks for al-Assad’s forces.
“Losing a round does not mean one lost the war,” he said.
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