Middle East
5:54 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Sons, Who Belonged To Hezbollah Died 'Heroically' In Syria

Originally published on Sun June 9, 2013 8:30 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.N. says hundreds of wounded, along with thousands more civilians, are trapped inside the embattled Syrian town of Qusair. The Syrian army, along with fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, have the town surrounded. Up until recently Hezbollah's involvement in the fight was kept secret. But now, as NPR's Kelly McEvers reports, the group's supporters are readying for what could be a bigger, more regional fight.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: When a Hezbollah fighter dies in combat, it's different than when a U.S. soldier dies. Here it's something to celebrate.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: In mid-May, this woman's two sons told her they were going off to fight in Syria. Three days later, officials from Hezbollah came to the door and announced her sons had been killed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: When they came to the house it was a procession, says the mother of the fighters. We ululated with joy. We believe when they die they go to a better place, she says. It's like a wedding.

The fighters, Ridwan and Ali Qasem al-Attar, were 37 and 40 years old. The brothers both worked as mechanics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: What helps us carry on is that victory comes at a price, says the fighters' sister. Victory requires blood.

But the question is: What is victory? Victory over whom? Hezbollah is a Shiite militia that was founded in 1982 to combat Israel's occupation of Lebanon. When Israel finally withdrew from here in 2000, Hezbollah vowed to continue its resistance against the Jewish state. In 2006, Hezbollah held its ground in a month-long war against Israel. Now Hezbollah leaders say they're fighting in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who's also an enemy of Israel.

But here in the Hezbollah house, it's clear the fight is about more than that. The father of the martyrs has just come home. He says he predicted Hezbollah would fight in Syria long before they did.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: This is a battle between the righteous and the unbelievers, he says. What he means is a battle between Shiites and Sunnis.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: I had nine children, he says. Two of them were killed. I'm ready to sacrifice the rest for the righteous way.

Back in 2006, if a Hezbollah fighter died fighting against Israel, the family was well compensated and told how the fighter was killed. This family says they have few details of how Ridwan and Ali Qasem died. All the parents will say is their sons died heroically and it's not the time for more details.

It could be because they died fighting other Arabs which would represent a new turn for Hezbollah. And not just any Arabs, but Sunni Arabs.

The uprising in next door in Syria didn't start as a sectarian one. But as the Shiite-aligned government in Syria battles a mostly Sunni rebellion, the conflict has become more polarized. Extremist Sunni fighters who pledge allegiance to a regional affiliate of al-Qaida have joined the fight.

The father says these men are worse than Israel. His nephew tries to explain that they don't hate all Sunnis just the bad Sunnis, the extremists.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: There are Sunni villages here, he says, waving his arm toward the door. We live side by side with them and for years nothing has happened. We have nothing against them.

But in recent days, many signs are pointing to a wider regional conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. Syrian rebels battled Hezbollah fighters here in Lebanon over the weekend. An influential Sunni cleric has called on Sunnis across the Arab world to go and fight in Syria. And Sunni-Shiite violence is back on the rise in Iraq.

We ask the father of the fighters where the fight will go next. He keeps coming back to one phrase: Total war.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Libya, Saudi, Turkey, he says, we are ready to fight. It's already started, he says. Only God can stop it now.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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MONTAGNE: NPR's Rima Marrouch contributed to that report.

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MONTAGNE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.