Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called on Lebanese to practice restraint, urging Sunnis and Shias in particular to remain vigilant towards those who “insist on dragging the country into sedition.”
Speaking in a televised address on the occasion of Martyr’s Day, Nasrallah said that certain figures inside the March 14 movement are determined to ignite a war between Sunnis and Shias.
“No one should drag you to their side by slogans,” he said, speaking one day after deadly clashes in the southern city of Sidon between supporters Hezbollah and Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir.
“We must all communicate with each other,” Nasrallah added. “If there is a problem, let’s sit down and talk. If there is a bomb, let’s dismantle the bomb. Especially Sunnis and Shias, we must practice restraint.”
Without calling anyone by name, Nasrallah railed against certain factions inside the opposition March 14 coalition who collaborated, or continue to collaborate with Israel.
He criticized the opposition for boycotting national dialog meetings.
The opposition demands Hezbollah lays down its arms before engaging in dialog with the March 8 coalition.
“There is no reason for you to put conditions for you to sit down. … When you are ready to come to the table, we will welcome you. You are not putting pressure on us when you don’t come. You are only putting pressure on yourselves.”
Tensions in the Lebanon have been simmering since the October 19 assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, the country’s top security chief and a major March 14 figure.
March 14 leaders quickly blamed Syria and, by extension, Hezbollah, for the killing, which Nasrallah dismissed in his speech as an opportunity to incite Sunni anger towards Shias.
“After the crime and assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, March 14 quickly pointed the finger at Syria without any evidence. Others could not stop, and pointed the finger at Hezbollah. They said he (Hassan) was a Sunni, and he was killed by Shias. That’s the way they think.”
The assassination triggered three days of violence across Lebanon with armed supporters of blocking roads and burning tires.
The latest round of violence erupted Sunday in Sidon, two days after Assir, a radical Salafi figure who is staunchly anti-Hezbollah, demanded that all banners belonging to the Shia movement and its ally Amal be removed from the city.
Two men close to Assir were killed and Hezbollah official wounded in a gun battle over the banners.
On Monday Assir marched alongside dozens of his supporters, many of them armed, through Sidon carrying the bodies of the two men killed in Sunday’s gun fight before burying them in the center of the Karama roundabout.
“Goddamn you Nasrallah, congratulations to our martyrs,” they chanted.
A third victim of yesterday’s violence was a 16-year-old Egyptian boy, Ali Charbini, who got trapped in the middle of the fighting.
Thirty years of resistance
Nasrallah used the occasion of Martyr’s Day to speak of a new age of deterrence in Lebanon vis-a-vis Israel through Hezbollah’s advanced information gathering and military capabilities.
Hezbollah last month caused a panic in Israel after sending the “Ayoub” drone into the country to snap pictures of sensitive areas.
“What completes the rocket capability is the intelligence, it is the drone and the other sources of intelligence,” Nasrallah said.
“We said we were responsible [for sending the drone], and what did the Israelis do in response? Nothing,” Nasrallah said. “They put their tails behind them and left.”
“We have a different reality in Lebanon now,” he continued. “No longer can they come to Lebanon and bomb and assault, it’s no longer so simple.”
He added that Hezbollah’s military and intelligence capabilities along with the army and the people of the country together form the resistance of Lebanon.
He also called for parties of different factions who fought Israel during its occupation of Lebanon to be allowed to participate in the formation of Lebanon’s national defense strategy.
“Who fought Israel for 30 years? The Lebanese Communist Party is a resistance party. Why isn’t the LCP sitting down to discuss national defense strategy?”
“There are others, the Nasserites, the Syrian Baathists, the list is long of those who sacrificed their martyrs who are being left out. Is it just and fair that those who worked with Israel can sit down at the table, and those who fought it cannot?”