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Lebanese president urges Hezbollah to leave Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman on Saturday urged Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria to avoid future repercussions on the tiny Arab state that suffered through 15 years of its own civil war.

Suleiman made his comments in the mountain village of Brih during a ceremony on reconciliation between the Druse and Christian community in the area that witnessed deadly sectarian violence during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

"I appeal for the return to Lebanon and to withdraw from neighboring arenas to avoid future repercussions on Lebanon," said Suleiman, a critic of Hezbollah backing Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Hezbollah, which openly joined the battles in Syria last year, is not likely to abide by Suleiman's call. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to keep his fighters in Syria as long as needed to shore up Assad's struggle against Syria's rebels.

The Hezbollah fighters have been instrumental to Assad's success on the battlefield, and support from the Iranian-backed group appears to have tipped the balance into the government's favor — especially in areas on the border with Lebanon and near the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Suleiman's comments came a week before his six-year term ends. Meanwhile in Syria, members of al-Qaida breakaway group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant beheaded a local rebel commander of a rival group, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Ahrar al-Sham commander known as Abu al-Miqdam went missing four days ago. It said the man was found beheaded Friday in the central province of Hama.

Many rebels referred to Abu al-Miqdam as the "tank sniper" for his role in firing rockets at Syrian army tanks, according to opposition websites. The Islamic State and rival Islamic groups including Ahrar al-Sham have been fighting each other in northern and eastern Syria since January. Activists say the internal fighting killed more than 6,000 people.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned a cut in water supplies in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo that he said has deprived at least 2.5 million people of access to potable water. In a statement released by his office late Friday, Ban noted that denying civilians essential supplies is a breach of international and humanitarian law.

Rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front shut down the main water pumping station in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, nearly two weeks ago to punish civilians living on the government-controlled side of the divided metropolis, the Observatory's Rami Abdurrahman said.

Abdurrahman, whose group collects information from activists inside Syria, said that the Nusra Front has tried to restart the water station, but that supplies are erratic and remain largely cut. "They don't have specialists to deal with the pumps, and they've damaged the station," Abdurrahman said. "They've tried to resume pumping. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The water comes and goes, but until now it's not flowing as usual."

Some residents have resorted to drinking polluted well water distributed in buckets and plastic jerry cans.

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