MORE than a dozen rockets and mortar rounds fired from Syria struck eastern Lebanon yesterday as tensions escalated along the Lebanese-Syria border over the increasing role of Hezbollah militants in the civil war.
Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Baalbek region was struck 16 times, starting fires but causing no casualties. Meanwhile, in Qatar, influential Sunni Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi lashed out at Shiites and Alawites – followers of forms of Islam which rival that followed by Sunnis – and blamed them for the bloodshed in Syria.
The Lebanese Hezbollah militia, a key ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is Shiite, while Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
In a rally in support of the Syrian rebels held on Friday in the Qatari capital of Doha, al-Qaradawi denounced Assad as a “monster” and Hezbollah as the “party of the devil”.
He claimed Shiites were planning to massacre Sunnis in Syria and that Assad “belongs to a sect more infidel than Christians and Jews,” according to comments on his website.
The cleric, whose TV show is watched by millions in the Arab world, also said there is no more common ground between Shiites and Sunnis and that he regrets previous efforts to bring the sides together.
The Syrian conflict is seen in part as a proxy war, pitting Sunni rebels backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey against a regime relying on support from Alawites, Shiites and Christians, and aided by Shiite-led Iran. As the civil war rages on, there are concerns fighting in Syria could destabilise neighbouring countries and ignite a wider sectarian war in the region.
Perhaps most at risk is fragile Lebanon, whose sectarian mix mirrors that of Syria. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, while Syrian rebels have warned they will attack Hezbollah bases in Lebanon in retaliation.