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Rockets in Lebanon capital signal Syrian spillover


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Despite the risk of a backlash over the involvement in Syria, Hezbollah appears to be banking on continued support from Lebanon’s Shiites, for whom it provides an extensive social support system.

Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, Hezbollah’s commander in south Lebanon, signaled a tough line Sunday. "If the rockets were meant to terrorize us and pressure us into changing our position (on Syria), they have failed to do that," he told a Hezbollah function.

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The Arab world’s Sunni leaders were predictably harsh on Nasrallah.

In Bahrain, Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa described the Hezbollah chief as a "terrorist" and said it was Lebanon’s "national and religious duty" to remove him from his influential position, according to the official Bahrain News Agency.

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby condemned Sunday’s rocket attack but also urged Hezbollah to stop interfering in the Syrian civil war.

It is not known how many men Hezbollah has sent to Syria, but the militia’s trained fighters fill a dire need for Assad’s army.

Regime troops have been stretched thin, both because of defections at the start of the conflict and because only the most politically loyal have been sent into battle.

It is unclear how Hezbollah’s new strategy will play out, said Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group think tank.

"They do see this as something that can redefine the rules of the game region-wide, and they are mustering all the strength they have to win this," he said of Hezbollah. "But it is doubtful strength alone can achieve this, as the regime itself has shown."

The Assad government, meanwhile, confirmed Sunday that it has agreed in principle to attend U.N.-sponsored talks with opposition representatives in Geneva next month on ending the civil war.


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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said during a visit to Iraq that such talks present a "good opportunity for a political solution for the crisis in Syria." He did not say under what terms Assad would dispatch representatives.

The date, agenda and list of participants for the conference remain unclear, and wide gaps persist about its objectives.

Syrian opposition leaders have said they are willing to attend the Geneva talks, but that Assad’s departure from power must top the agenda. Assad said this month that his future won’t be determined by international talks and that he will only step down after elections are held.

Al-Moallem’s statement puts more pressure on Syria’s fractured political opposition to signal acceptance as well. The main bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, met in Istanbul for a fourth day Sunday to come up with a unified position on the proposed peace talks, elect new leaders and expand membership.

Louay Safi, a senior member of the coalition, said participants were bogged down in talks about the expansion and won’t be able to issue a statement on the Geneva talks until membership issues are settled.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Yasmine Saker in Beirut, Brian Murphy in Dubai and Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed reporting.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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