DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s foreign minister has called the head of Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah a “terrorist” after Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters would help bring victory to its ally President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.
The comments represent a departure from the traditional Arab view of Hezbollah as a main force against Israel and show the widening sectarian divisions in the region over the war in Syria.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been rocked by political turmoil since majority Shi‘ite Muslims took to the streets in 2011 to push for reforms and more say in the government. Bahrain’s rulers blame regional Shi‘ite power Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, of fomenting the unrest
“Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is a terrorist and is declaring war on his own nation,” the Bahrian News Agency reported, quoting the minister’s twitter account.
“Stopping (Nasrallah) and saving Lebanon from him is a national and religious duty,” he added, according to BNA.
Nasrallah said in a speech on Saturday marking the 13th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon that Syria and Lebanon faced a threat from radical Sunni Islamists.
This was a plot devised by the United States and its allies to serve Israel’s interests, he said.
Nasrallah became a hero in the Arab world after his forces helped push Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000 and confronted the Jewish state in a short war in 2006.
But Hezbollah’s increasing involvement in the civil war in Syria, pitting Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam, against the majority Sunnis, has turned many against his group.
Unrest broke out in Bahrain in 2011 when thousands of people, mainly Shi‘ites, took to the streets. The government Bahrain has since crushed the protests with help from Sunni-led Gulf Arab states but regular protests erupt regularly.
Last November, Bahrain said it arrested four suspects in an attack that killed two people in Manama. Authorities said five home-made bombs bore the hallmarks of Hezbollah.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Angus MacSwan