Fighters from two Islamic terrorist groups, Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Syrian Al-Qaeda faction Nusra Front, shot it out along Lebanon’s border with Syria Saturday, with both sides claiming victories — and both sides suffering deaths. The battle was the latest escalation of a war that has been building between the rival terror groups for months.
The bitter rivalries among the various Islamic militant groups have emerged out of the four-year-long Syrian civil war, with the Shiite Hezbollah terror group siding with Syrian dictator Basra al-Assad, while while Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS, fight to topple Assad’s regime.
Inside Syria, fighters from Nusra Front, a Syrian group which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda and its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, have attacked sacred Shiite shrines, leading to Hezbollah leaders to draw a “red line” against the Sunni rebels.
Experts on the Middle East conflict now believe that Hezbollah, which has long focused its hostilities toward Israel, no longer has the resources to carry out anti-Israel operations while also battling Al-Qaeda and has shifted its military priority to its struggle with its Sunni rival. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters deployed to Syria to aid in the fight against the anti-Assad rebels.
The Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam have been in conflict for centuries.
On Saturday, the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda spilled into Lebanon, where Nusra said it attacked Hezbollah outposts in the mountain village of Flita, about three miles from Syria’s border with Lebanon.
The Syrian Army, with Hezbollah’s backing, took over the strategic Flita outpost last year. On Saturday, the Hezbollah television news station Al-Manar denied that the Al-Qaeda-linked forces had taken Flita back, saying that the fighting in the area continued.
According to Lebanese security officials who spoke to the news agency Reuters, it was actually Nusra which took the heavier losses. The officials said that at least 15 of the Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in the Saturday battles, which took place in the Qalamoun mountain range along the border of Lebanon and Syria.
Hezbollah took three fatalities in the fighting, while Assad’s Syrian Army forces suffered five killed, according to the security officials.
Lebanon endured its own horrific civil war that dragged on from 1975 to 1990. The battles between rival terror factions Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda have led to fears that the country could once again be torn apart by armed conflict.