Observatory Says 104 Hizbullah Fighters Killed in Syria so Far, Party Denies Figure

Seventy-five fighters from Hizbullah have been killed in Syria since late last year, a source close to the group said on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a higher death toll, saying 104 Hizbullah members had been killed in Syria since last autumn, but a Hizbullah spokesman denied the figures.

"There have been 57 killed and 18 others who have died of their wounds since the start of its participation in the war in Syria," the source close to Hizbullah told Agence France Presse.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said 104 Hizbullah fighters had been killed in all in fighting in central Homs province, which borders Lebanon, and around a revered Shiite pilgrimage site just south of Damascus.

"In the past five days, 46 were killed in Qusayr, 20 more died in the same area earlier this month, and 38 have died since the autumn in Homs province and at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine," the Britain-based watchdog chief said.

Hizbullah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi told AFP: "I deny these figures. When we decide to give any information, we'll be in touch."

Hizbullah combatants have become increasingly involved in Syria's conflict, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces against an insurgency that flared after a brutal regime crackdown on democracy protests.

Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine, revered by Shiites around the world.

However its elite fighters later encircled the rebel-held central town of Qusayr with regime troops before the launch on Sunday of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people.

Hizbullah denied its involvement in Syria for some time, quietly burying fighters killed in the fighting there.

But the movement stopped hiding its dead when its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on April 30 paid homage to fighters killed across the border.

"Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and Takfiri groups," he said in a televised address.

Waddah Sharara, an expert on the organization, says Hizbullah has some 20,000 fighters, of whom 5,000 to 7,000 have combat experience, and between 800 and 1,200 of them have been fighting at Qusayr.

Source: Agence France Presse

Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.