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Monday February 17, 2014 MYT 6:10:02 AM
Monday February 17, 2014 MYT 6:36:34 AM
by erika solomon AND laila bassam
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called on Sunday for Arab political forces to "stop the war on Syria," promising that if they left the country alone, his Lebanese Shi'ite group would also withdraw.
The three-year-old conflict in Syria has fuelled Sunni-Shi'ite tensions in neighbouring Lebanon and across the wider Arab world. It has drawn in militants who fight on both sides and receive funding and arms from rival regional powers.
"If you want to prevent this region from falling into chaos that will not end for decades, stop the war on Syria," Nasrallah said, addressing all political forces in the Arab world.
"Get the fighters out of Syria, let the Syrians reconcile," the leader of the Iranian-backed movement said. "Of course if that happened, we would not remain in Syria either."
Hezbollah fighters helped turn the tide for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the military struggle against rebels last year. Assad now has a firm hold on much of central Syrian territory around the capital and the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Nasrallah's speech also appeared to be a response to Lebanese politician Saad Hariri, who on Friday vowed to tackle militancy within his own Sunni sect but said Hezbollah must end its involvement in Syria to avoid a "sectarian holocaust".
The Syria conflict has had a destabilising effect in Lebanon, which is still recovering from its own 1975-1990 civil war. Syria's rebels are mostly Sunnis, while Assad belongs to the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Sunni militants have become more active in Lebanon since the Syrian conflict began almost three years ago.
They and Syrian rebel groups have carried out several suicide bombings in Hezbollah-controlled areas in Beirut and elsewhere, killing dozens of people. They have vowed to keep attacking Hezbollah until it withdraws its forces from Syria.
Earlier on Saturday, security forces found an explosives-rigged car that was headed to Beirut, an army statement said.
Nasrallah said his Lebanese opponents, including Hariri's Future movement, could also be targeted by Sunni militants.
"If these groups won, would there be a future for the Future party in Lebanon?" he asked. "All of us will be treated the same and the proof is what has happened in Syria...in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia," he said, referring to countries where al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups have at times seized territory.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah could not allow rebels to win in Syria, characterising them all as Islamist radicals, and asked his followers for more sacrifice and patience.
"The people who died in these bombs - women and children, young and old - are just like our men who have been martyred in Syria," he said. "Is this part of the battle worthwhile? Yes it is worth it."
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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