Hezbollah no.1 responds to rumors of death of no.2 at the hands of Syrian rebels

Published February 28th, 2013 - 05:19 GMT
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah Wednesday issued a strongly worded warning against what he said were attempts to incite Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon, advising his rivals: “Don’t make any miscalculations with us.”

He also said that Shia Lebanese living in Syria had the right to defend themselves against rebel attacks, asking them to spare the lives of civilians.

Nasrallah’s remarks came during a televised speech he said had been brought forward to counter rumors that he had recently been transferred to Iran for medical treatment and Hezbollah figure Sheikh Naim Qassem had been killed by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

The Hezbollah leader denounced efforts to incite sectarian clashes, particularly between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon, and criticized accusations that his party had a role in several security incidents.

“There is someone pushing Lebanon in a swift manner into sectarian clashes and working day and night toward achieving this objective and a clash between Sunnis and Shias,” he said. “This destroys everyone, and ignites the country into flames and no one has an interest in that.”

He slammed as baseless the rhetoric by some Sunni lawmakers and sheikhs and said it contributed to the risk of strife.

“I think ... statements by some MPs and religious figures from the honorable Sunni community are taking an escalatory trend and that is very dangerous,” he said. “It’s also based on illusions that others build upon and present as facts while Hezbollah has nothing to do with it.”

He also denied allegations that Hezbollah was involved in the shooting of two Sunni sheikhs last year at an Army checkpoint, as well as the October assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan or the Arsal incident earlier this month which left two soldiers dead.

“These are dangerous allegations. Where do you think you’re taking the country [with such remarks]?” he said.

Without naming him, Nasrallah responded to Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, who recently said that Hezbollah members had moved into his area in order to attack him. “There are thousands of Shia families and voters in Sidon ... we have centers in Abra [where Assir’s mosque is] even before any mosque was built. We were there before,” Nasrallah said.

He said his party would not respond to insults or be dragged to retaliate on the ground.

“We are very, very keen on preventing confrontation but no one should make any miscalculations with us,” Nasrallah warned.

Late last year, two of Assir’s bodyguards were killed along with an Egyptian passerby during clashes with Hezbollah in the Taamir neighborhood of Sidon over a dispute that resulted from the hanging of Hezbollah banners in the city. The fighting also left five other people wounded, among them a Hezbollah commander.

“We don’t want to attack anyone, or take over anything. We are busy trying to remain prepared for what Israel is planning for Lebanon, the region and Palestine,” the Hezbollah leader said, adding that the government should be held responsible for the sectarian incitements.

Nasrallah touched on recent border clashes between the rebel Free Syrian Army and members of Hezbollah, saying that Shia Lebanese living in Syria had the right to defend themselves.

Three members of the resistance group and 12 Syrian rebels were killed two weeks ago during battles in the Syrian border town of Al-Qusair which is mainly inhibited by Shia Lebanese.

“The Syrian opposition is the one that controlled [border] villages inhabited by Shiite Lebanese, forced their migration and burned their houses and crops ... those who remained armed and defended themselves, their houses, their fields,” Nasrallah said.

He added that Lebanese had been living there for over a century before the demarcation of borders between Syria and Lebanon and therefore had the right to retaliate against attackers.

“They have the right to defend themselves, and whoever is killed [in these battles] is considered a martyr, but these people did not attack civilians,” he said.

“I tell everyone there that you have the legitimate right of self-defense ... but the rest of civilians regardless of their sect and political stances are off limits,” Nasrallah said, criticizing the government for its inaction regarding the issue.

He said the government failed to exert any political or diplomatic efforts to help 30,000 Lebanese living in Syria facing “sectarian cleansing” by appealing to countries that support the opposition including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Nasrallah did not comment on FSA claims that the party was shelling Syrian territory near Qusair, but urged Lebanese in the border town to agree to any truce in order to preserve their land.

Referring to rumors circulated by the media in recent days about his health and the killing of a top Hezbollah commander, Nasrallah said such reports were part of a media campaign against the party.

“The rumors that were promoted generated a negative climate, which prompted me to make this appearance,” he said.

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