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Hezbollah to Stay In Syria, Despite Bassil’s Assurances

Hezbollah to Stay In Syria, Despite Bassil’s Assurances

Tuesday, 15 September, 2020 - 08:45
Hezbollah members carry the coffin of top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in an attack in Syria, during his funeral in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon, May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil’s announcement that Hezbollah had begun to think about returning from Syria seems to be drifted from the current reality.

Bassil’s call on the Lebanese to embrace and support Hezbollah’s decision was not met by any official statement by the party’s leadership in this regard. On the contrary, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had confirmed, four months ago, that his party would not withdraw from Syria as a result of the Israeli airstrikes.

The FPM chief has pointed on more than one occasion to Hezbollah’s military engagement outside the Lebanese borders, declaring his rejection to this matter. However, he explicitly announced on Sunday that the party was thinking of returning to the Lebanese interior. His statements drew local and foreign attention.

While officials in Hezbollah declined to comment, sources close to the party said that there was “nothing serious and new that needs to be announced regarding the presence in Syria.”

“The party’s mission there mainly falls within the framework of carrying out tasks, as additional groups and members from Lebanon are heading towards the Syrian interior when there is a task that must be carried out in a certain region,” the sources revealed.

They continued: “Over the past two years, the party’s role in Syria has changed a lot with the decline in combat operations. As for the withdrawal, it is linked to the withdrawal of all foreign fighting forces, and this is supposed to happen within two years.”

The party refuses to set a date for its departure from Syria. In earlier statements, Nasrallah said the withdrawal would come upon a request by the Syrian leadership.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel-Rahman noted that the current mission of Hezbollah in Syria was to compensate for the inability of the regime forces to control all of the Syrian territories.

“Whenever the Iranian decision to remove Hezbollah from Syria is taken, the withdrawal will take place. We do not see any signs in this direction now, especially in light of Iran’s efforts to recruit more fighters,” he said.

In July 2020, Nasrallah announced that his party had reduced its forces in Syria, pointing to the “diminishing intensity of fighting on the Syrian land.”

Shortly after, he stressed that Hezbollah’s fighters would remain in all places where they had previously been deployed

The head of the Middle East and Gulf Center for Military Analysis - Inegma, Riad Kahwaji, referred to information about withdrawals carried out by Hezbollah from Syria, stating that the number of its fighters there has decreased by 50 percent.

“There are clear efforts being made to reduce the tension between Israel and Iran, especially on the Syrian arena. Therefore, the party finds an interest in reducing its presence there, especially after its bases have become exposed throughout the Syrian soil,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

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