Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – There is conflicting information about a prospective prisoner exchange deal between the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and Hezbollah, after the FSA was able to capture a number of Hezbollah and al-Assad regime elements. This deal would see the FSA releasing its prisoners in return for Hezbollah releasing Syrian citizens being held in the Hermel border region.
The FSA also announced that “the bodies of two Hezbollah fighters arrived at the al-Batoul hospital in Hermel.” The FSA statement asserted that “at a time that the conflict in the border region is intensifying, Hezbollah and Syrian regime elements are continuing to besiege the border village of Jawsiya, preparing to storm the area after a mixed [Hezbollah – Syrian regime] brigade took control of the western route and prevented the village inhabitants from fleeing towards safety.”
Sources within the Syrian interior confirmed that this prisoner exchange deal is set to take place soon, without revealing further details; however a Hezbollah political source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the issue did not deserve a “response or comment.”
For his part, FSA Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Aref Hammoud told Asharq Al-Awsat “the FSA leadership has no information about this [prisoner exchange] process” adding “this may be being coordinated by some battalion commanders on the ground.”
He also confirmed that “FSA elements captured Hezbollah fighters who were fighting alongside the Syrian regime. They were involved in the killing of the Syrian people; however Hezbollah has not captured any FSA elements.”
“Hezbollah is arresting Syrian workers who are working in Lebanon or refugees and saying they have captured [FSA] prisoners.” The FSA deputy commander added.
FSA Joint Command spokesman Fahd al-Masri told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we neither confirm nor deny any prisoner exchange deal.” He also asserted that “Hezbollah does not have any FSA prisoners; rather they have imprisoned Syrian citizens in Lebanon.” The FSA spokesman also revealed that “we have 13 Hezbollah prisoners and dozens of bodies of Hezbollah fighters killed within Syrian villages and towns, they were heavily armed and attacking Syrian citizens” adding “their fate is in the hands of the Hezbollah leadership.”
Al-Masri also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hezbollah is attacking us with artillery and rockets being launched from its bases in the mountainous region of Hermel. Syrian villages and towns are within the blast zone, whilst Hezbollah fighters are also present in 6 Syrian villages and attempting to attack and occupy the village of Jawsiya with the objective of taking control of it and surrounding [the town of] al-Qaseer.”
He added “Hezbollah is attempting to drag Lebanon, the people of Lebanon and the Shiite community into the depths of the Syrian conflict.”
The FSA spokesman stressed that “we are telling the people in Lebanon, particularly those belonging to the honourable Shiite community that our battle is not with them but with the Hezbollah leadership. We are warning them of the consequences of aggression on Syrian territory and the killing of Syrian people. Our response will be painful and targeted against the Hezbollah leadership, not against anybody else in terms of the Lebanese people or Shiite community.”
He also called on the UN Security Council and Arab League to hold an emergency meeting as soon as possible to discuss the dangerous developments in Syria, including Hezbollah suppressing the Syrian people on Syrian territory.
Al-Masri added “we call for the deployment of international forces along the border between Syria and Lebanon to serve as a deterrent against Hezbollah dragging Lebanon into a battle it is not a party of.”
The FSA Joint Command spokesman also stressed the importance of “Lebanese political leaders taking urgent action to work toward ensuring that Lebanon does not become, once more, an arena for external wars, particularly the wars of Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”