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Hezbollah mobilizes ahead of potential US Syria strike

Sept. 2, 2013 10:34 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 3, 2013 10:25 P.M.)
BEIRUT (AFP) -- Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group, a close ally of the Syrian regime, is redeploying its forces ahead of possible US strikes on Damascus, according to witnesses in Lebanon.

The reports come as the daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, said on Monday that the group had "called on all its officers and members to man their positions."

Residents speaking to AFP in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre said there appeared to be a general mobilization of the group's members, even if such a movement was not being publicly discussed.

Many Hezbollah fighters have disappeared from local villages in the last five days, though strict security measures around group headquarters and checkpoints have remained in place, residents said.

The situation is the same in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon, a stronghold of the organization.

Residents said fighters, including gunners, had left their regular posts, and switched off their mobile phones to ensure they could not be traced.

In the southern suburbs of the capital Beirut, also considered a Hezbollah bastion, teenagers have replaced more experienced fighters at checkpoints inspecting cars entering the district.

A Hezbollah spokesman declined to comment on the reported redeployment of the group's forces.

On Monday, Al-Akhbar also reported that the "Syrian army has mobilized units that have not participated until now in the conflict."

"It has established an operations room... with Hezbollah and the units in charge of missiles are at an unprecedented level of alert," the daily added.

"The Islamic resistance (Hezbollah) has called on all its officers and members to man their positions," the newspaper reported.

The reported mobilization comes after US President Barack Obama said he favored the use of military action against Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

But Obama has said he will seek approval from Congress for any strikes in response to the attack, for which the Syrian regime denies responsibility.

Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syrian regime, and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside Syrian troops and against rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

Wadah Charara, an expert on the group, says it commands around 30,000 fighters, including 10,000 with extensive combat experience.

Between 800 and 1,2000 Hezbollah fighters are thought to have taken part in the Syrian regime's battle to recapture the town of Qusayr in central Homs province earlier this year.

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