Inside Syria

Hezbollah and Assad: An unbreakable alliance?

We examine the Lebanese group’s role in the Syrian conflict and its unequivocal support for Bashar al-Assad.

On Thursday, an explosion in Beirut struck near a facility used by Hezbollah, the Shia political party and armed group that in recent months has become increasingly and more publicly involved in the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

... I think what we see is Hezbollah acting mostly out of its own self-interest but as part of a region-wide response from Iran.

by Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute

At least 290 people were injured in the blast, which occurred between the Bir el-Abed and Roueiss neighbourhoods – an area regarded as the heart of Beirut’s Hezbollah territory.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed the bombing on Sunni armed groups he calls Takfiri.

“Until today we have not accused anyone. Today I will make an accusation. All indications concerning yesterday’s bombing point to Takfiri groups,” he said.

Nasrallah was defiant, saying that if needed, he would personally go to Syria to fight the Takfiri. Whether or not he would actually do that, there is no doubt that Hezbollah means business in Syria.

Hezbollah has been unequivocal in its support for Bashar al-Assad, particularly since the battle of Qusayr, a Syrian town on the border with Lebanon. And Nasrallah has declared that the bombings will not halt Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian conflict.

“I think there is on the one hand this phenomenon of extremist groups … that are willing to sacrifice the
last young man available for the cause so to speak, which is true. But on the other hand, I think also that this is a specific attack against Hezbollah ….

“Hezbollah has not made a lot of friends in this part of the world, it has an agenda, it is pursuing it’s agenda, it believes that it is correct and it is right to pursue this agenda but there are lots of other people who oppose it.”

Joseph Kechichian, a senior writer at Gulf News

The use of chemical weapons

It has taken weeks of negotiations between the UN and the Syrian government, but a UN chemical weapons team is due to visit Syria on Sunday.

The team is made up of weapons experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It plans to investigate claims that sarin gas and other toxic nerve agents have been used by both the Syrian government and the rebel fighters.

Among the sites to be visited will be Khan Al Assal in Aleppo, where the government says rebels used chemical weapons in March. But the UN is expected to establish only whether these weapons have actually been used, not who used them.

To discuss the two issues, Inside Syria, with presenter Kamahl Santamaria, is joined by guests: Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut; Joseph Kechichian, a senior writer at Gulf News, a former analyst at the RAND Corporation and author of several books including Legal and political Reforms in Saudi Arabia; and Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, specialising in defence and security.

“It would be useful if they were able to determine if these chemical weapons were used and presumably news would leak out about who they think used them and other investigations would happen by this group or some others. The problem is that the history of UN missions in the Syrian conflict in the last two-and-a-half years is not a happy history.”

Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs