BEIRUT (AFP) – The head of Hezbollah urged his fighters on Wednesday to stand ready to take Galilee in any future Lebanon-Israel war and threatened Israeli leaders “anytime, anywhere” to avenge a top operative’s killing.
“I say to the fighters of the Islamic Resistance: Be ready. If a new war is imposed on Lebanon we may ask you to take Galilee, to free Galilee,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech to mark his Shiite party’s martyrs’ day.
“I hope the people of Israel have good bomb shelters,” he added.
Nasrallah vowed that the assassination of Imad Mughnieh, killed in a February 2008 car bombing in Damascus that Iranian-backed Hezbollah has blamed on Israel, would not be forgotten or go unpunished.
“I do not want to go into details. Suffice to say that our decision remains the same and will be executed, God willing, at the right time,” he said to thunderous applause from hundreds of supporters gathered in a stadium.
“To the Zionist generals, I say: Anywhere you go in the world, at any time, watch out, for the blood of Imad Mughnieh will not go to waste.”
A month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 destroyed much of Lebanon’s infrastructure and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers.
Nasrallah’s comments came a day after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that his army may have to re-enter Lebanon to ensure Hezbollah “remembers” the 2006 war.
“Even though it’s quiet and deterrence exists — Hezbollah remembers the heavy beating they suffered from us in 2006 — but it is not forever, and you may be called to enter again,” said Barak during a tour of the border region.
Waving Iranian, Egyptian and yellow Hezbollah flags, hundreds of supporters cheered as the reclusive Nasrallah gave a fiery speech, transmitted on a giant screen in a stadium laced with pictures of assassinated Hezbollah leaders along with Mughnieh.
Mohammed Yusuf Mansour, alias Sami Shehab, also made an appearance at the rally, taking a seat in the front row as a presenter lauded him as a “freed prisoner” and a “brother in our struggle”.
Mansour is the head of a 22-member Hezbollah cell who escaped from an Egyptian prison during the Cairo uprising last month.
Hezbollah, which has had strained ties with Egypt for decades, has praised Egyptians on their “historic victory” after president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
The Hezbollah leader also commented on the political crisis in Lebanon, where Nasrallah and outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri are locked in a standoff over a UN-backed tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Western- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri on Monday, the anniversary of his father’s death in a suicide bombing, said he would not join the next government, weeks after Hezbollah toppled his unity cabinet in a dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is reportedly poised to implicate Hezbollah in Rafiq Hariri’s killing.
Hariri also accused the Shiite group of using its weapons to intimidate the Lebanese. Hezbollah is the only party not to have handed in its arms after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, arguing they were necessary to defend the country against Israel.
“This case is closed and it is best if you no longer trouble the president and other leaders with the matter,” Nasrallah said.
“The regional situation today has changed,” he added. “If the new opposition is determined to fight against this, they will be fighting a losing battle to no end.”
Sunni Muslim billionaire Najib Mikati, who was appointed with Hezbollah’s backing, will succeed Hariri in heading the next government which has yet to be established.