BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two Hezbollah fighters, who local sources said were killed near a Syrian border town where rebels are fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, have been buried in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
One was a senior military figure in Hezbollah, the Lebanese group which Syrian rebels accuse of supporting Assad’s troops battling the 18-month-old uprising.
Shi‘ite Hezbollah has given strong public political support to its ally in Damascus but has not confirmed a military presence on the ground - wary of inflaming sectarian tensions in Lebanon where many Sunni Muslims support the anti-Assad rebels.
A statement on Hezbollah’s website said “the martyr leader Ali Hussein Nassif (who) died while performing his jihad duties” was buried on Monday in Baalbek, the main town in the northern Bekaa Valley that is a stronghold of the Shi‘ite militants.
Hezbollah’s Manar television showed a funeral in Baalbek on Tuesday of Zine al-Abideen Mustafa, who it also said died carrying out unspecified jihad obligations.
Hezbollah gave no details about their deaths but sources in Baalbek said they and another Hezbollah man were killed near a Syrian border town where rebels are fighting Assad’s forces.
They said the three died when a rocket hit the room where they were staying.
Syrian rebels in the area where the Hezbollah fighters are believed to have been killed have not claimed responsibility for any attack on the movement in recent days.
But the website of Hezbollah’s political foes, known as March 14, said Nassif and a number of other Hezbollah fighters died on Sunday when rebels ambushed their convoy near al-Qusair.
Syria’s uprising, which started off as peaceful demonstrations for reform, has transformed into an armed insurgency by mainly Sunni Muslim rebels trying to overthrow Assad, from the Alawite minority close to Shi‘ite Islam.
The rebels are supported by Sunni regional powers including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and have attracted Islamist fighters from across the Middle East to their cause. Assad is supported by his main regional allies Iran and Hezbollah.
Activists say more than 30,000 people have been killed, including 7,000 soldiers and members of the security forces, since protests first broke out in March last year.
Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Rosalind Russell