BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – The leader of Hezbollah accused Israel on Friday of being behind a string of killings of anti-Syria figures in Lebanon, saying the Jewish state was trying to foment strife between his Islamic militant movement and other Lebanese communities.
Supporters of Lebanon’s government and others have repeatedly blamed Syria for the killings, charging Syria wants to bring down Prime Minister Fuad Saniora by killing off lawmakers who give him a slim parliamentary majority.
Hassan Nasrallah, whose anti-Israeli group leads the pro-Syria opposition to Lebanon’s U.S.-backed government, made the allegation during a speech to a rally held in south Beirut to show support for the Palestinians.
“The hand that is killing is Israel’s,” Nasrallah told thousands of supporters who occasionally interrupted his speech with roars of approval.
He said that “Israel has a sure interest in the assassinations” because it “is the prime beneficiary of any internal strife in Lebanon” between factions opposed to Syrian influence and those who are friends of the Damascus regime like Hezbollah.
Nasrallah, who keeps his whereabouts secret for fear Israel would try to kill him as it killed his predecessor in 1992, spoke over a video linkup and did not personally attend the rally.
There were no responses to Associated Press calls for comment to Israeli government officials in Jerusalem and the Israeli Embassy in Washington because offices had closed for the Jewish sabbath.
Syria denies any link to the slayings. President Bashar Assad, who was forced by international pressure to withdraw his troops from Lebanon in 2005 after a nearly three-decade occupation, said earlier in the week that the killings were against Syria’s interests.
The latest killing was Sept. 19, when lawmaker Antoine Ghanem died in a Beirut car bombing a week before Parliament was to meet to elect a new president to succeed Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syria politician who leaves office Nov. 24.
Hezbollah and its allies blocked the parliamentary session from electing a president Sept. 25. The 128-seat assembly will try again Oct. 23, and Lebanese worry a failure to elect a leader could lead to the opposing forces creating rival governments.
Nasrallah warned the pro-government majority in Parliament against picking a president without the opposition’s approval. He said the Lebanese people should be polled on their choice if lawmakers cannot reach consensus on a candidate.
He said Hezbollah would support only a “president who is a nationalist and has proven that he does not submit to the pressures from embassies,” referring to foreign interference in Lebanese politics.
The gathering by several thousand Hezbollah supporters was organized by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah to mark “Al-Quds Day,” or Jerusalem Day, in support of Palestinian rights and emphasizing the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims.