BEIRUT/Asharq Al-Awsat- (Agencies) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodhman Clinton has warned Hezbollah against resorting to violence, saying the militant group cannot stop a U.N. court investigating the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.
Clinton’s remarks came in an interview with Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, published on Friday.
Clinton said “intimidation or threats” from Hezbollah should not be tolerated.
Hezbollah on Thursday warned that they would “cut off the hand” of anyone who tried to arrest any of its partisans over the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafik Hariri.
“Whoever thinks the resistance could possibly accept any accusation against any of its jihadists or leaders is mistaken — no matter the pressures and threats,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on closed-circuit television to mark his militant group’s Martyr’s Day.
“Whoever thinks that we will allow the arrest or detention of any of our jihadists is mistaken,” he said, describing his political rivals as “in a hurry to see an indictment” in the five-year-old case.
“The hand that attempts to reach (our members) will be cut off,” he added, prompting thunderous applause from hundreds of party supporters in a stadium in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburb of Beirut.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a UN-backed investigation into the Hariri murder, is reportedly set to issue an indictment soon that will implicate high-ranking members of the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group.
Nasrallah, whose party fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, said his movement would defend itself against any accusation using whatever means it found appropriate.
“Whoever thinks that the resistance will not defend itself and its honour against any accusation or attack by whatever means it finds appropriate in agreement with its allies in Lebanon is mistaken,” he said.
The Shiite leader, who has not appeared in public for more than two years, also said his party — the most powerful military and political force in the country — was ready for another round with its arch-foe Israel.
“We are ready for any Israeli war on Lebanon and will again be victorious, Inshallah,” he said.
“Whoever thinks that threatening us with another Israeli war will scare us is mistaken,” he added. “On the contrary, whoever speaks of another war is bearing good news and not threatening us.”
Nasrallah’s speech was the latest move in an increasingly heated campaign Hezbollah has launched to fend off the anticipated STL accusation against high-ranking members in connection with the killing of Hariri and 22 others in a Beirut bombing on February 14, 2005.
Nasrallah has warned that further Lebanese cooperation with the court would be tantamount to an attack on his powerful group.
Despite the warnings, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri — son of the murdered ex-premier — has vowed to see the tribunal through.
“The Lebanese today have a golden opportunity to save their country from an American and Israeli plot,” Nasrallah said on Thursday, as he renewed his charge that the STL was a US-Israeli ploy to “guillotine the resistance.”
“The Lebanese have one of two choices: either they hand the country over to… (US envoy Jeffrey) Feltman and (US Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton, or they cooperate with Syria and Saudi Arabia.”
Saad Hariri accused Syria of his father’s murder in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, at a time when Syria dominated Lebanon politically and militarily. He later dropped the accusation.
Leaders of regional power-houses Syria and Saudi Arabia, which back Hezbollah and Hariri respectively, have met several times in an attempt to stem tensions in Beirut.
Western countries have stepped up their backing for the tribunal, with the United States announcing a 10-million-dollar donation to the court and both Feltman and US Senator John Kerry visiting Beirut.
Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has urged the UN Security Council to “pay very close attention” to Lebanon, pushing for “pre-emptive diplomacy” to calm the volatile situation.
Analysts have warned the standoff could lead to the collapse of the government and a repeat of the 18-month political deadlock that degenerated into deadly clashes and brought Lebanon close to civil war in May 2008.