March 21, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6355

Reports In Arab, Lebanese Media: Hizbullah Has Pulled Some Of Its Troops From Syria

March 21, 2016
Lebanon, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 6355

Recently there has been a series of reports in the Lebanese and Arab press that Hizbullah has begun withdrawing its troops from Syria, reports which the organization has repeatedly denied.

The reports come against the backdrop of several important developments that have occurred in the region in the last few weeks: the decision taken by the Saudi-led Gulf and by most other Arab countries to designate Hizbullah a terrorist organization; the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian regime and opposition, which began on March 14, 2016 in an attempt to promote a political solution in Syria; the current ceasefire in the country that came into force on February 27 and includes most of the warring sides, and finally Russia's withdrawal of some of its forces from Syria.

The following is a review of the recent reports on Hizbullah's withdrawal from Syria, and of the organization's denials:

Lebanese Janoubia Website: Hizbullah Is Withdrawing Troops From Syria

On March 14, 2016, the Lebanese Janoubia website, which is run by Shi'ite Lebanese journalist 'Ali Al-Amin, known for his opposition to Hizbullah, posted the following report, citing sources close to the organization: "Yesterday night [March 13], hundreds of Hizbullah troops that had been fighting in Syria began returning to their homes in the Southern Dahiya of Beirut, suddenly and without advance announcement." The website assessed that the main reason for the move was Russia's decision, declared by President Putin on March 14, to withdraw some of its forces from the country. It speculated further that Hizbullah's pullout from Syria was part of an agreement that had recently taken shape between Russia and the U.S. to promote a political process between the warring sides in Syria and to prevent any element from sabotaging this process. Hizbullah's withdrawal, said the website, suggests that Iran and Hizbullah are committed to this agreement, though they have not officially declared this.[1]

The next day, the Turkish news agency Anadolu cited Al-Amin as saying that Hizbullah was likely "to withdraw its troops from areas [in northwestern Syria,] like the Aleppo [area], but not from Damascus and from regions along the Lebanese border, such as Al-Qalamoun and Al-Zabadani."[2]

Hizbullah fighters in Syria (Image:

Hizbullah: These Rumors Are Groundless

The same day, March 15, Hizbullah's military media bureau released a statement via Facebook to the affect that "these rumors [about a Hizbullah withdrawal] are groundless and are part of the failed psychological warfare to which we are accustomed." The organization added that the rumors are spread by "foreign news agencies and Arab media [that] work in coordination with the terrorist organizations," and urged other media "not to be fooled and not to spread these lies and rumors." It stated further that "the last word in Syria will still be uttered by [the forces on] the battlefield, which are making daily progress in isolating the terrorists and in thwarting the countries that support them."[3]

Janoubia And Other Sources Reiterate The Claims

Another report by the Janoubia website, on March 15, cited two sources (one described as "knowledgeable" and another as close to Hizbullah operatives) as confirming that Hizbullah had fully withdrawn from some of its positions in Syria and had taken up new positions elsewhere in the country.[4]

Also on March 15, the Kurdish Syrian website ARA News cited Lebanese media activist Ahmad Salman as confirming the reports about Hizbullah's retreat. Salman assessed that the withdrawal was a result of popular pressure on Hizbullah inside Lebanon, and also of the attack on Hizbullah by the Gulf states and Arab countries that had recently designated it a terrorist organization.[5]

According to a March 18 report in the Lebanese daily Al-Liwa, Lebanese security sources confirmed to senior Lebanese authorities the claims about a Hizbullah pullout.[6] On March 19, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab reported, citing several sources, that Hizbullah had changed its deployment in Syria from offensive to defensive and had retreated from several fronts. The daily added that some troops had returned to Lebanon, while others had been transferred to different parts of Syria, including to areas with a Shi'ite majority. The sources listed two reasons for the move: the ceasefire that recently came into force in Syria; and concerns that, following Hizbullah's designation as a terrorist organization, its forces would be targeted by both opposition elements and by the jets of the international coalition. The daily also quoted Mustafa Ahmad Al-Sheikh, a high-ranking officer who defected from the Syrian army, as saying that, in addition to the Arab states, Russia too had exerted pressure, both military and political, against Hizbullah's activity in Syria.[7]

Hizbullah Deputy Sec. Gen. Repeats The Denial: "Hizbullah Is Still In The Field"

The flurry of reports prompted another denial from Hizbullah, this time by deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassem, who said on March 18 that "Russia's partial withdrawal [of its forces] does not affect the military forces that are supporting the Syrian army and its allies in the fight against ISIS, [Jabhat] Al-Nusra and their allies... Hizbullah is still in the field, as it was, and has not changed its moves, its [level of] readiness or its plan."[8]




[1], March 14, 2016.

[2], March 15, 2016.

[3], March 15, 2016.

[4], March 15, 2016.

[5], March 15, 2016.

[6] Al-Liwa (Lebanon), March 18, 2016.

[7] Al-Arab (London) March 19, 2016.

[8] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 19, 2016.

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