BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad Al Hariri accused Hezbollah yesterday of dragging the country deeper into Syria’s civil war after the Shia militant group’s leader said he was ready to go to Syria himself to fight.
Hariri, a former prime minister, was responding to a speech by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah who said that a car bomb in Shia southern Beirut would only redouble the group’s military support for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
“(Nasrallah’s) speech takes Lebanon into deeper involvement in the Syrian fire,” Hariri tweeted. “It’s a pity to squander the blood of the Lebanese in such a way”.
The death toll from Thursday’s car bomb, already the deadliest attack in Beirut since the 1975-1990 civil war, rose to 27 yesterday.
“At least 27 people died and 336 others were wounded in the car bomb attack that targeted the Rweiss neighbourhood on Thursday,” the office of Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
An earlier toll on Friday said at least 22 people had been killed. But Khalil’s office said three people died of their injuries overnight on Friday while two more bodies were found, raising the death toll.
Hariri’s father Rafik Al Hariri, who also served as prime minister several times, was killed along with 21 others in a 2005 bombing. A UN-backed tribunal has indicted four Hezbollah members over the killing.
“What happened (on Thursday) was an ugly crime, but Hezbollah’s war in Syria is crime as well,” Hariri said, criticising Nasrallah for calling for restraint at home while reinforcing his commitment to the battle in Syria which has polarised Lebanon and sharply raised sectarian tensions.
Most Sunni Muslim Lebanese support the rebels battling to overthrow Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam. Many Shia Lebanese support Assad and Hezbollah’s support in the neighbouring country has grown from a political to a full military role.
Hezbollah guerrillas led Assad’s fight to recapture the Syrian border town of Qusair in June from mainly Sunni rebels, and have also fought in the city of Homs and near the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zeinab southeast of Damascus.
Nasrallah said on Friday the Syrian war was a battle against radical Sunni “takfiri” groups, who he blamed for Thursday’s bomb.
Many Sunni jihadi fighters from Lebanon and other Arab countries have joined the fight against Assad, and some have threatened retaliation in Lebanon unless Hezbollah withdraws from Syria.
The two-year conflict has killed 100,000 people in Syria and the violence has spread to Lebanon, with rocket attacks in the Bekaa Valley, street fighting in the Mediterranean cities of Sidon and Tripoli, and bombs in Beirut.