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Syrian Government Casts Off Restraint in Pursuing Enemies Across the Border

June 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Syrian civil war continues to spill over its neighboring border, with rocket attacks fired against a Hezbollah stronghold and at a town known as a haven for rebels. Ray Suarez talks to Margaret Warner, reporting from from Beirut, about the recapture of key Syrian town of Qusayr and sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And next to Syria, where rebels briefly seized control of the only border crossing with Israel in the Golan Heights today, sending U.N. staff in the area scrambling to shelters. Austrian peacekeepers announced they would withdraw their troops because of the violence. Several hours later, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces retook the crossing.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged Syrians to unite against Assad. And, in Lebanon, there were more signs today that the conflict is spilling over there following the takeover of the Syrian town of Qusayr by Assad forces and Hezbollah.

Margaret Warner is in Beirut and talked to Ray Suarez a short time ago.

RAY SUAREZ:  Margaret, welcome.

What’s the reaction in Lebanon to the victory of Assad’s forces in Qusayr over the Free Syrian Army?

MARGARET WARNER: Ray, the reaction’s been large here because of the role that Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon played in the retaking of Qusayr, assisting the Assad forces.

There also has been an immediate security reaction here in Lebanon. That is, 11 rockets were fired overnight at this Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley, Baalbek. And then today, a Syrian military plan, or it looks like a helicopter, fired rockets at a town in northern Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley that’s been a haven for Free Syrian Army fighters, rebels, and refugees.

That was of particular concern to Western diplomatic officials here, what the Syrian military did, because, as one said to me, it shows that the Syrian government doesn’t feel any sense of restraint anymore about crossing this border line to pursue its enemies inside Lebanon.

And, finally, it has stirred up fears among people here who are — have their ear to the ground in terms of the security situation, that it is going to inflame Sunnis here, and that extremist Sunnis may take their revenge on Hezbollah and Shias in general by attacking them here in Lebanon.

RAY SUAREZ:  You have had the chance to speak to people close to both Hezbollah and the Syrian rebels. What’s next for both sides in this conflict?

MARGARET WARNER: What I hear from someone very close to the FSA Gen. Idris is that there is many FSA fighters still trapped in Qusayr between government forces in the center of town and essentially a lot of Hezbollah around.

He said the main problem the FSA realizes they have and have to solve is one of command-and-control, that the forces they thought they were collecting from around the country to go in and do a rescue operation, which I reported on last Friday, most of them never got in. So, that’s their situation.

For Hezbollah, I talked to someone, a former Lebanese security and intelligence official very close to talks to all the players, including the Syrians, because of the Syrian occupation here. He said he doubts that Hezbollah will, as others have reported, move on to Aleppo and other areas in Syria.

He said: I don’t believe they’re going to move deep into Syria. They’re going to stay protecting the border around Lebanon, protecting holy sites, Shiite holy sites, protecting their own supply routes, and protecting some Lebanese who live inside Syria.

He said, I would be surprised if they go on.

So, that all remains to be seen.

RAY SUAREZ:  Margaret Warner joining us from Beirut.

Margaret, thanks a lot.

MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure, Ray.