LEBANON: Hezbollah chief calls on Syrians to stand by Assad regime
After heartily hailing popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been unenthusiastic about the wave of anti-government protests in Syria, the Shiite militant group's close ally.
In a speech late Wednesday, Nasrallah threw his full support behind the Syrian regime and denounced international sanctions slapped on Syria for an ongoing brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that human rights activists say has left more than 1,000 people dead.
Speaking via video link before a large crowd of supporters in a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese Bekka valley marking the 11th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, Nasrallah called on Syrians to stand by the regime led by president Bashar Assad and urged them to give the Syrian leadership a chance.
"We call on all Syrians to preserve their country as well as the ruling regime, a regime of resistance, and to give their leaders a chance to cooperate with all Syria's communities in order to implement the necessary reforms," he was quoted as saying in media reports.
Wednesday's speech marked the first time Nasrallah commented comprehensively on the demonstrations in neighboring Syria which have been going on for the last 10 weeks. Syria, along with Iran, is a major supporter and backer of Hezbollah.
Elaborating on his theory as to why Syrians should support Assad, the Hezbollah chief explained that unlike other Arab countries, the Syrian leader wants to implement reforms. As an example of an Arab country that rejects reforms, Nasrallah used Bahrain, where a Sunni government crushed a mainly Shiite protest movement in March.
"The difference between the Arab uprisings and Syria ... is that President Assad is convinced that reforms are necessary, unlike Bahrain and other Arab countries," he said.
Meanwhile, Syrian human rights activists accuse Assad's regime of perpetrating a deadly crackdown on the protests.
Syrian human rights activist Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights said earlier this week that his organization has the names of 1,062 people killed by Syrian security forces since protests broke out in March, according to media reports.
Nasrallah advised the Lebanese not to "interfere" in what is taking place in Syria and let the Syrians themselves deal with their own affairs. He told party backers to stand firm against sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S., the European Union and Canada.
Although Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanese soil in 2005 following the assassination of ex- Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri on the Beirut waterfront, the Syrian regime still influences Lebanese politics via a Hezbollah-led coalition.
Photo: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivering a speech via video link on Wednesday. Credit: Agence France Presse