Lebanon urged to help end the conflict in Syria

The violence in Aleppo, Syria, continued to escalate on Thursday, with missiles damaging a number of houses.
The violence in Aleppo, Syria, continued to escalate on Thursday, with missiles damaging a number of houses.

BEIRUT — Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, urged the Lebanese government on Thursday to take a more active role in finding a political solution to the civil war in neighboring Syria and to open its border to refugees to avert further bloodshed.

Nasrallah, the head of the Shi’ite militant movement in Lebanon, was addressing a ceremony in the town of Baalbek, near the Syrian border, by video link in observance of Arbaeen, the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Nasrallah has only occasionally commented on events in Syria during speeches. His remarks were also notable in that he was openly encouraging Lebanon to play a larger role in seeking an end to the bloody conflict.


After the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, the prime minister of Lebanon, ­Najib Mikati, declared the country would pursue a line of ‘‘disassociation’’ from either side, a position apparently aimed at keeping the fighting from spilling across the border. Nevertheless, there have been occasional flare-ups inside Lebanon and episodes of cross-border shelling.

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Nasrallah also spoke as reports emerged of the escalating death toll among civilians. As the conflict approaches the end of its second year, multiple reports flow in daily of civilian casualties from airstrikes, gunfire, and shelling. This week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel group that tracks the war from Britain, reported 45,000 deaths, mostly civilian, since the conflict began, while the United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, set the number at more than 60,000, based on a new analysis of the broadest data to date.

Nasrallah also touched on the refugee problem. Last month the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion in new aid to handle the humanitarian crisis created by the violence and predicted that the number of Syrian refugees would double to more than 1 million in the next six months. There are now about 160,000 registered refugees in Lebanon alone. Jordan has at least 150,000, Turkey has 140,000, Iraq more than 65,000, and Egypt more than 10,000. How many more are unregistered is uncertain.

Nasrallah said the best solution for the refugees would be a halt to the violence.

‘‘We should deal with the Syrian refugees with purely humanitarian responsibility, without politicization of the issue. Attention must be paid to the displaced families, whatever their political background,’’ he said. ‘‘We, as Lebanon, cannot close the border with Syria, with our understanding of the political, security, and economic risks for this massive displacement.’’


‘‘I call on the Lebanese government to develop its position on the Syrian crisis,’’ Nasrallah continued. ‘‘Lebanon must exert pressure for a political solution and a political dialogue in Syria. If military operations continue in Syria, it will be a long and bloody battle.’’

Nasrallah also emphasized the deep connections between Lebanon and Syria. “We must recognize that Lebanon is a country mostly affected by what is going on around it, especially in Syria, because of sectarian and political diversity, and conflict of interest,’’ he said.

Nasrallah and the Hezbollah group have kept their loyalty to Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, an Alawite, relatively low key. Fighters from the movement cross the border to fight for the president, and some have been sent to protect areas important to Shi’ites, analysts said. With the frontier between Syria and Lebanon weakly controlled, there are concerns that it could be the focus of confrontations with Sunni fighters in a possible regional conflict.

Hezbollah officials deny that the group is fighting in Syria, although Nasrallah has said Hezbollah was providing assistance to help protect villagers of Lebanese heritage in Syrian villages along the border.

Efforts to find a political solution by Russia, the UN special envoy, and others have appeared to founder as neither Assad nor his opponents have expressed a willingness to make concessions.