WASHINGTON – A branch of al-Qaida has declared open warfare on Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The move has prompted Hezbollah, which calls itself the Party of the Resistance, to tighten security in its strongholds, especially in south Beirut and throughout the Bekaa Valley.
The Sunni Wahhabi Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which is fighting alongside the rebels opposing the Iranian, Shiite Hezbollah-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, declared that areas of Lebanon where Hezbollah operates are “legitimate targets” for attack.
In addition, a Nusra Front statement warned Sunnis in Lebanon to avoid those areas.
“We, Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, announce that Iran’s party, Hezbollah, and all its bases and bastions are legitimate targets for us, wherever they are,” the group said in an Internet statement.
The threat to Lebanon signals an expansion by Nusra of its efforts to create a regional Islamic caliphate under strict Islamic law, or Shariah, to include not only Syria and Iraq, where al-Qaida forces recently have stepped up attacks in Anbar province around Fallujah and Ramadi, but also Lebanon.
Nusra has been responsible for some six suicide attacks in south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold that was regarded as secure, with the group’s significant presence on the streets and at checkpoints.
In addition, parking places have been chained off to prevent vehicles from being used as bombs, a move which also is having a negative impact on local businesses.
Last November, two car bombs driven by Palestinians aligned with the al-Qaida-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigade from the United Nations-administered Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp outside of Saida, or Sidon, detonated outside the Iranian Embassy, which is in a Hezbollah-controlled area of south Beirut.
The twin blasts, meant to destroy the embassy because of Iran’s support for Assad’s Shiite Alawite regime, only partially damaged the building but killed some 26 people in the surrounding residential area.
Just last week, another suicide car bomb detonated, killing some five people and wounding scores of people shopping and living in the area.
While the bombs are being detonated in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Beirut, most of the victims have been innocent civilians.
After the latest bomb blast, observers told WND, an ambulance was used to deliver the body of a young student to his mother. Hezbollah members of parliament were in attendance as friends of the young man fired automatic Kalashnikov rounds into the air as a salute to his “martyrdom.”
Sources tell WND that suicide bombers now are detonating the cars while they are moving since they cannot be parked. They add that if a driver decides not to detonate the device in the car, there are spotters who will detonate it remotely.
Hezbollah security has warned residents to stay off the roofs of apartment buildings and off the balconies of their apartments out of concern that a Nusra Front member could remotely detonate a moving car bomb.
While car-bomb attacks now are occurring on the average of once a week in Hezbollah strongholds, sources tell WND that Nusra fighters continue to infiltrate into Lebanon from Syria and occupy Sunni-dominated areas.
The development has led former Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri to appeal to Sunnis not only to stay out of areas occupied by Hezbollah but to avoid any participation with the Sunni Nusra fighters.
If things deteriorate further, Hezbollah could be prompted to attack Sunni locations in Beirut and throughout the country, escalating toward what could become a full sectarian civil war.
The appeal comes as Nusra has called on Sunnis to support it in its battle against Hezbollah.
“The Lebanese and the Sunni sect refuse to be part of any war in Lebanon or the region between Hezbollah and al-Qaida,” Hariri, who heads the Sunni Future Movement, said in a statement.
“They also reject that civilians in any Lebanese area become a target to this crazy war and its dangerous repercussions on national and Muslim unity,” he said.
Hezbollah parliamentary member Hasan Fadlallah, however, stressed that Hezbollah is determined to confront Nusra’s “terrorism.”
“Just like we confronted the Israeli terrorism in the past,” Fadlallah said, “we continue today to confront with the same determination and same force the terrorism of the takfiris (foreign fighters).
“This kind of terrorism will not change our position,” he added, “and will not alter our political choices. On the contrary, such takfiri terrorism only makes us more convinced in our options.”
Lebanese of all sectarian persuasions have been reluctant to engage in open hostility, mindful of the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990 that destroyed much of the country, which hasn’t fully recovered even now.
Except for periodic attacks in south Beirut and in the north of the country around another Hezbollah stronghold of Hermel, sources tell WND that Nusra fighters continue to enter into Sunni-controlled areas but are lying low for now.
They add that Nusra is expected to launch increased attacks throughout the country as spring approaches.