Report: Hizbullah Training Shiite Syrians to Defend Villages against Rebels

Hizbullah has been training Syrians from the Shiite sect in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley to defend themselves against the rebel Free Syrian Army, sources told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat on Wednesday.

The Syrian Shiite sources said around 1,500 men are receiving salaries and being trained in the Bekaa camps to fight in Syria and defend Shiite villages and towns against the rebels.

The FSA media official, Fahd al-Masri, told Asharq al-Awsat that Hizbullah sent scores of its fighters to Jabal al-Qalamoun two weeks ago.

The Hizbullah members are mainly spread in al-Zabadani and Reef Homs, specifically in the Christian town of Debleh, he said.

Al-Masri expected the area to witness heavy battles between rebels and pro-government gunmen backed by Hizbullah.

Reports that 5,000 members have been sent to Syria to fight alongside the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad are exaggerated, he said.

The Saudi al-Watan daily reported on Monday that some 5,000 Hizbullah members have been fighting alongside regime troops in the restive suburbs of Damascus.

The newspaper quoted sources as saying that the fighters crossed the border into Syria last month. But they said that around 300 of them were killed in the fighting in the past few days.

Battles have flared in areas around Damascus as rebels seeking to topple Assad try to push into the city itself.

The United Nations estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011.

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