Feltman Dubs Hizbullah 'Soldiers of Fortune,' Accuses it of Causing Sectarian Tensions

Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. under secretary general for political affairs, has described Hizbullah members fighting in Syria as “soldiers of fortune,” saying they have contributed to the rising sectarian tensions linked to Syria's war.

“Hizbullah’s role inside Syria, which is a violation of their own national government’s policy of disassociation, has been part of the fuel of the rising sectarian tensions that characterize this conflict,” Feltman told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in an interview published on Friday.

Iran is “concerned about the implications of the sectarian aspects of the conflict in Syria, which has implications not only in Syria, it has implications beyond Syria,” he said. “We see it in Lebanon, we see it in Iraq, it has the potential to go even further.”

“The Iranians should be very interested in seeing an end to the fighting in Syria because that fighting in Syria is an engine – it provides momentum behind the sectarian conflict that can touch the entire region and the entire world,” Feltman, who was the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, said.

Asked about a peace conference the U.N. is trying to convene in Geneva late next month and why Hizbullah was not invited to it, Feltman said: “I look at Hizbullah as almost like soldiers of fortune supporting one side of this conflict, that they are not part of the political process that can lead to a solution.”

He stressed that Hizbullah is not a Syrian party that can decide on the country’s future.

Syria's opposition National Coalition is to meet November 9 to decide on the divisive issue of whether to take part in the peace talks. Last month, the Syrian National Council -- a key component of the Coalition -- insisted it would not attend the conference mooted for late November, sticking to its demand that President Bashar Assad's departure was essential.

A defiant Assad has shown no sign of backing down after a two-and-a-half-year civil war that has left more than 115,000 people dead, saying he was ready to run for re-election in 2014.

Hizbullah fighters have been instrumental in the regime's control of Syria's strategic town of al-Qusayr several months ago.

The party continues to fight alongside Assad's troops in several hotspots.

But Feltman told al-Hayat that the U.N. and the West are trying to promote a process based on the Geneva conference of last year “by which the Syrians, not Hizbullah and not foreign fighters on the Sunni side, are deciding the faith of Syria.”

As long as the fighting continues Hizbullah and Jabhat al-Nusra “have influence on what is happening on the ground,” he said.

“We want the Syrian people themselves to be the ones who are deciding Syria’s future,” he added.

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