Report: 5,000 Pro-Hizbullah Fighters Defending Lebanese-Inhabited Border Towns in Syriaإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
There are near daily clashes in Syria close to the Lebanese border between rebels and fighters loyal to Hizbullah, Agence France Presse quoted local residents as saying on Wednesday.
Activists have long accused Hizbullah, a long-time recipient of support from Syria, of joining the fight to crush the 19-month insurgency against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The fighting is taking place in Syrian villages inhabited mainly by Lebanese, in an area where the common border is not well-defined and where many villages actually straddle the frontier.
"Our villages are being attacked by rebels who want to enter, and we defend ourselves," a resident of Zeita, whose village has seen frequent clashes, told AFP on Wednesday, requesting anonymity.
Clashes are taking place "in some 20 Shiite villages in (the central Syrian province of) Homs, which are inhabited by some 30,000 people," he added.
Assad is an Alawite, a sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
"More than 5,000 armed men are protecting our villages, and most of them are close to Hizbullah," the resident said. "Some 16 fighters have been killed since the start of the conflict."
Rebels also report frequent clashes.
"Hizbullah transports weapons and ammunition across the border in ambulances, day and night," said Fahd al-Masri, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army's joint command.
"They take the international road, without stopping at the border post."
Asked by reporters in Beirut on Wednesday about Hizbullah's role in Syria, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said: "Nobody has discussed this with me, not today, not previously."
Last Thursday, Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the party had taken no decision to enter the fighting in Syria but that some Lebanese living there had taken up arms to "defend themselves."
"The party has nothing to do with their decision, but I cannot tell them not to go fight," said Nasrallah.