Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday accused Syrian rebels of attacking Lebanese Shiites living in Syrian villages and denied claims his Shiite group had targeted insurgents across the border.
The Free Syrian Army last week threatened to shell positions of the powerful Lebanese militant group after accusing it of firing from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon at villages under FSA control in the Syrian border region of Qusayr.
"In this region, the mostly Shiite Lebanese residents, some of them members of Hezbollah... have not at any point controlled Sunni villages," Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast by the group's Al-Manar television.
"What's happened is the opposite. The armed opposition (fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime) has taken control of the villages inhabited by Lebanese Shiites in recent months, chased them out, and burned some houses."
He said those displaced had fled to the Hermel region of eastern Lebanon, while those remaining in the villages "have taken up arms to defend themselves and protect their properties, which is their right."
"What has happened in the past few days... is a large military campaign by hundreds of armed men to chase the residents out of these villages," added the Hezbollah chief, calling for "reconciliation" between the region's inhabitants.
Lebanon is sharply divided over the Syrian conflict, which has heightened sectarian tensions between Hezbollah and its allies backing the Assad regime and the Sunni-led March 14 opposition movement supporting the revolt.
Nasrallah's televised speech also appeared designed to quell rumours about his health which have circulated with some Internet sites saying he was suffering cancer and being treated in Iran.