Nasrallah Says Hezbollah in Syria 'Protecting Lebanon from ISIS'

Hezbollah chief responds to growing criticism of group's involvement in Syria amid mounting casualties, spillover into Lebanon.

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Ari Soffer,

Hezbollah terrorists carry coffin of operativ
Hezbollah terrorists carry coffin of operativ

Five more Hezbollah fighters were killed fighting in Syria, according to a statement by the Shia terrorist group Friday.

Lebanon's Yalibnan said four of the men were identified as Hassan Adnan Al Hammadi, Mohammad Qasim Sulaiman, Sajid Hisham Hamad and Fadi Abdallah Masarrah. The fifth casualty was not identified.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has come under considerable strain; the group has committed thousands of fighters to Syria where it is fighting to defend Tehran's ally President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni rebels.

Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has proved crucial pushing rebels from regions near the border with Lebanon, but the group has sustained heavy casualties in the process. And it has also made it the target of Sunni jihadis inside Lebanon itself, with terrorist groups linked to both Al Qaeda and, more recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), claiming responsibility for a string of bombing and rocket attacks on Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.

Those attacks have raised concerns in Lebanon that Hezbollah's role in Syria - made in spite of the Lebanese government's official policy of non-intervention in the country's civil war - is sparking a deadly spillover which could escalate into a full-scale sectarian war.

Responding to growing domestic criticism, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed in an interview with Lebanese paper al-Safir that his group's involvement in Syria had in fact served to protect Lebanon from ISIS, whose rapid advances in Iraq and openly expansionist agenda have left surrounding states increasingly jittery.

"If we had not intervened in Syria at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way… the ISIS would now be in Beirut," he claimed.

But those claims are already in doubt; on Thursday a previously unknown group linked to ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing on Wednesday, and vowed further attacks against the Iranian proxy, which it labeled "the party of Satan" ("Hezb-ul-Shaytan" - a play on the group's name "Hezbollah" or "Party of God".)