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Saudis to deport Lebanese who back militants in Syria

Kingdom targets Hezbollah, ally of Bashar Assad

Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri did not specify when the deportations would begin.

Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri did not specify when the deportations would begin.

BEIRUT — In the latest sign of the fissures growing in the Arab world over the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut has announced that the kingdom plans to deport Lebanese who supported Hezbollah, one of Damascus’ key allies.

The warning comes as the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group takes an increasingly prominent role in the Syrian war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops in a key battle earlier this month. Saudi Arabia is a backer of the mostly-Sunni Syrian opposition trying to oust Assad. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

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It follows the decision earlier this month by the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates — to crack down on Hezbollah members in the Gulf and limit their ‘‘financial and business transactions.’’

Hezbollah says it has no businesses in Gulf nations. However, there are more than half a million Lebanese working in the Gulf Arab nations, including tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia, some of whom have been living in the kingdom for decades. Many of those Lebanese are Shi’ites.

Saudi Arabia will deport ‘‘those who financially support this party,’’ Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri told Lebanon’s Future TV late Wednesday. He did not elaborate on whether other actions could be also considered support for Hezbollah.

‘‘This is a serious decision and will be implemented in detail,’’ Assiri said, without specifying when the deportations would begin. ‘‘Acts are being committed against innocent Syrian people.’’

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters Thursday he was in contact with Gulf officials on the matter. Hezbollah and its allies dominate Lebanon’s current government, which resigned March 22, but continues to run the country’s affairs in a caretaker capacity.

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Syria’s 2-year civil war, which has killed nearly 93,000 people, is increasingly pitting Sunni against Shi’ite Muslims and threatening the stability of Syria’s neighbors.

Assad draws his support largely from fellow Alawites as well as other minorities including Christians and Shi’ites. He is backed by Shi’ite Iran, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shi’ites.

US officials estimate that 5,000 Hezbollah members are fighting alongside Assad’s regime, while thousands of Sunni foreign fighters are also thought to be in Syria — including members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate believed to be among the most effective rebel factions. Public opinion in Sunni states is often sympathetic to the rebels.

Fighting between pro- and anti-Syrian groups has broken out in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is deepening tensions at home.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who has been critical of the group recently, said in remarks published Thursday that he is against Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.

‘‘I told them from the start that I am against this act,’’ he was quoted by al-Safir daily as saying.

In Syria, activists reported violence between government forces and rebels in different parts of the country Thursday, mostly near the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban center and its commercial hub.

Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group said 40,000 civilians in Damascus in two areas of the city are suffering food shortages and lack medical aid.

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