BEIRUT (AFP) – Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday called for the formation of a “Freedom Flotilla II,” and lauded Turkey’s tough stance against Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid fleet.
“There is a real opportunity today to achieve what the Freedom Flotilla aimed to do… and that is to break the siege on our brothers and sisters in Gaza,” Nasrallah said in a speech beamed to a mass rally in Lebanon’s capital.
“This means we will need to form more flotillas of different nationalities and see them on to Gaza,” he told thousands of his supporters, who waved Palestinian, Turkish and Hezbollah flags in a show of solidarity with the victims of Monday’s raid.
Nasrallah called on the people of Lebanon, including Christians and Muslims, to participate en masse in “Freedom Flotilla II” and again attempt to break the sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“Any Lebanese who is on that flotilla will come home safe and sound,” he told the rally in Beirut’s mainly Shiite southern suburb, a Hezbollah stronghold.
“Just as Israel takes into account the red flag of Turkey, so it takes into account the yellow flag” of Hezbollah, Nasrallah said, paying tribute to four Lebanese activists aboard the flotilla who were repatriated this week.
Nine people were killed when Israeli commandos stormed a fleet of boats dubbed the “Freedom Flotilla” that was carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid towards Gaza, which has been under siege since 2006.
All nine of the victims were Turks, including one who held US citizenship.
The confrontation sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Israel, two major powerbrokers in the region.
Ankara recalled its ambassador from Israel and said it intends to reduce economic and defence ties with Israel but would stop short of freezing all bilateral cooperation.
In his speech transmitted to Friday’s rally via videolink, Nasrallah praised Turkey’s tough stance against the Jewish state, describing it as an “earthquake for Israel.”
“I will not say that Israel has lost Turkey (as an ally), but it has begun to lose Turkey and that is a significant strategic shift in the region,” Nasrallah said.
“The lesson to be learned here is that… only diplomacy which is built on strength and arms is effective,” he added.
But the head of the Lebanese militant group, who rarely makes public appearances, downplayed his intention to ignite a renewed round of conflict.
“I do not intend to create a new problem,” he said. “But we need to be part of this humanitarian struggle, and not leave it to those who traverse the sea to get here.”
Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war with Israel in the summer of 2006.
More than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed in the 34-day conflict which destroyed much of Lebanon’s major infrastructure.
Fears of a fresh conflict between the two arch-enemies have escalated in recent weeks after Israel accused Hezbollah of having acquired long-range Scud missiles.