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DAMASCUS: A commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army warned yesterday that his forces would target Lebanon’s Hezbollah unless the powerful militant group stops shelling territory held by the insurgents.
The ultimatum, which expires today, came after the outgunned rebel fighters shot down a regime warplane following a deadly air strike that killed 20 people in a Damascus province town.
General Selim Idriss, the FSA chief of staff, told AFP that Hezbollah had long been taking part in hostilities in Syria, but had gone too far by shelling villages near Qusayr in Homs province from the Bekaa valley
“Hezbollah is abusing Lebanese sovereignty to shell Syrian territory and Free Syrian Army positions,” said Idriss.
“In the past week... Hezbollah has been shelling into villages around Qusayr from Lebanese territory, and that we
cannot accept.” The commander said the rebels were giving Hezbollah a 48-hour deadline to stop the attacks and “as soon as the ultimatum ends, we will start responding to the sources of fire”.
Rebels in the Qusayr area would be backed by FSA fighters “equipped with long-range weapons from other areas,” he said.
Hezbollah has repeatedly denied sending fighters into Syria, though its leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged in October 2012 that party members had fought Syrian rebels but said they were acting as individuals and not under the group’s direction.
Lebanon is sharply divided over the Syrian conflict, with the Sunni-led March 14 movement supporting the revolt and the Shia Hezbollah and its allies backing the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.
Yesterday, a Lebanese military judge demanded the death penalty for former minister Michel Samaha and Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk, who face charges of plotting attacks on political and religious figures in Lebanon. Samaha, a Christian politician with close links to the Damascus regime, was accused of stoking sectarian strife in his country.
On the ground in Syria, rebels managed to shoot down a warplane in Hammuriyeh, after an air strike on the central town killed 20 people, including a woman and child, a watchdog and activists said.
Amateur video shot by activists and distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed a warplane firing from the sky and then going down in flames after apparently being hit.
“It’s gone up in flames... Free Syrian Army air defence battalions have hit a MiG warplane!” cried the cameraman.
Lacking sophisticated weaponry, rebels have frequently used heavy machineguns to shoot down warplanes deployed to strike insurgent enclaves across the country.