Hezbollah’s big bet on Syria poses risks at home

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
September 26, 2013

Hezbollah rolls the dice on Syria, court upholds war criminal’s conviction, and Sudan’s Bashir may not come to NYC after all. Today is Thursday, September 26, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Protesters loyal to the Shi’ite Muslim Al-Houthi group, also known as Ansarullah, hold posters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during a demonstration to show their support to al-Assad, in Sanaa, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Syrian roulette.  After a discreet meeting between Iran’s Supreme Leader and Hezbollah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, highly trained members of the Lebanese Shi’ite paramilitary group entered the fray in Syria and helped turn the tide against Sunni rebels. A Reuters special report reveals how intervention in Syria has put Hezbollah at the forefront of a regional sectarian conflict. Lebanon’s involvement in its neighbor’s war was met with some resistance within Hezbollah ranks:

Reuters has learned that a few voices within Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe, opposed joining the conflict in Syria. Two prominent members feared intervention would drag Hezbollah and the Shi’ite community into a quagmire… Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, who led Hezbollah from 1989 to 1991, said the decision to intervene had been entirely down to the Islamic Republic of Iran. “I was secretary general of the party and I know that the decision is Iranian, and the alternative would have been a confrontation with the Iranians,” Tufayli, who fell out with Iran and his former group, told Reuters at his home in the Eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. “I know that the Lebanese in Hezbollah, and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah more than anyone, are not convinced about this war.”

Hezbollah’s reach into Syria has shifted the group’s focus from Lebanon to the wider region. Fighting against Syria’s Sunnis has prompted retaliatory strikes on Lebanese soil, and both Iran and Hezbollah are diverting billions of dollars towards efforts in Syria. According to regional security officials, between 2,000 and 4,000 Hezbollah fighters, experts, and reservists are in Syria, engaging in battle and training local militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Hezbollah’s involvement in the war has also robbed the group of support at home as people lament Lebanese lives lost abroad. Hezbollah’s directive in Syria has long-term implications. If Assad holds on to power, Iran will increase its influence on the Mediterranean coast. Read the full report on Hezbollah’s Syria gamble here.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appears in court at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for his appeal judgment at The Hague, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Koen van Weel/Pool

Blood diamond dictator loses appeal. Appeals judges in The Hague upheld a 50-year prison sentence for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was convicted last year for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war:

[Taylor] is the first head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after World War II. Taylor was also found guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone, which cost some 50,000 lives and left tens of thousands of people mutilated, their fingers, hands or limbs chopped off. Prosecutors said he used the proceeds from so-called blood diamonds mined in the conflict zone to finance his activities, which included advising and helping the rebels.

65-year-old Taylor will be transferred to a British maximum security prison from the seaside detention center where he has been held since 2006. The decision comes at a time when the efficacy of international courts is under fire as the African Union claims the ICC has disproportionately targeted African leaders.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir smiles as he arrives for talks with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir at Khartoum Airport, Sepember 3, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

No Bashir after all. An accused war criminal won’t be hanging out in New York this week despite his earlier intentions. A U.N. official announced on Thursday that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, will not attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York:

Protests broke out in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities over higher fuel prices on Monday. Six people were killed on Wednesday during clashes with security forces and Sudan’s Internet was cut off on the third day of unrest. A U.N. official told Reuters by email Bashir would not after all be coming to New York, giving no further details. Washington has led calls for Bashir to face international justice over bloodshed in the now decade-old conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. had previously called Bashir’s intention to travel to New York “deplorable.”

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, however, denied the report, saying that Bashir’s visa request is still with the U.S. embassy in Khartoum. At least 27 people have been killed in Khartoum protests over fuel subsidy cuts.

Nota Bene: The Nairobi mall siege boosts international support for Kenya’s President Kenyatta, who is due to face trial for crimes against humanity.

Standouts:

Resolving the nuclear impasse - Iran’s upcoming meeting with the IAE could prove Rouhani’s sincerity. (Reuters)

Boy who cried forest - A young man who lied about living in the woods is sentenced. (BBC)

Scottish secession - Thousands rally for independence from the UK. (Al Jazeera)

Balloon ballroom - The world’s first inflatable concert hall debuts in Japan next month. (The Atlantic Cities)

Fit for the throne? - The King of Spain undergoes his fifth surgery in 18 months. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Italy president reprimands Berlusconi party over resignation threat.
  • Greek deputy prime minister says country does not require third bailout.
  • Kerry to travel to Japan, Indonesia for meetings.
  • Militants raid forces in India before India-Pakistan talks.
  • Anti-gay law won’t derail Sochi Olympics, IOC says
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