The head of Hezbollah has said he is ready to receive “game-changing” weapons from Syria, which has long been a conduit for Iranian weapons bound for the Lebanese armed group.
Hassan Nasrallah, in an address televised to an audience in Beirut on Thursday as a security precaution, said the shipments of new types of weapons would serve as the Syrian reaction to Israel’s air strikes.
His speech, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hezbollah’s radio station Al-Nour, comes just days after Israeli air raids on Damascus reportedly targeted shipments of advanced Iranian weapons bound for the group.
Western and Israeli sources said the aim of Sunday’s air attacks was to take out “game-changing” Iranian missiles destined for Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The resistance [against Israel] is prepared to accept any sophisticated weaponry even if it was to break the equilibrium [in the region],” Nasrallah said in his speech.
“We are worthy of having such weapons and we would use them to defend our people and our country and our holy sites.”
Later on Thursday, Chuck Hagel, US defence secretary, said the US remained committed to protecting Israel.
“Israel’s security is further enhanced by America’s defence cooperation with other regional partners,” he said in Washington.
“In my consultations with Israeli leadership, I emphasised that strong US security relationships with Arab nations – including Egypt and Jordan, and our partners in the Gulf – are not only in our strategic interests, they are also in Israel’s security interests.”
Fierce border clashes
In recent weeks, Nasrallah has acknowledged that Hezbollah fighters are backing Syrian troops fight rebels trying to topple Assad.
And as he spoke on Thursday, opposition activists and military sources reported fierce clashes between rebels and fighters loyal to Assad raged around the rebel-held town of Qusayr near the borders with Lebanon.
Backed by Hezbollah fighters, the Assad government launched an intensified bid last month to retake the town, strategically located just south of Syria’s third city, Homs, which lies on the road linking Damascus to the coast.
An army officer told AFP news agency on Thursday that the military seized control of a village just outside Qusayr.
“The Syrian army seized back control of Shumariyeh in the Qusayr countryside, and troops are currently on their way to the village of Ghassaniyeh” which has been under rebel control for more than a year, the officer said.
Qusayr fell out of regime control more than a year ago, but has faced daily shelling and frequent aerial bombardment.
The UN presence in the Golan Heights on the Syrian-Israeli border has also been challenged in recent months.
In the latest incident, four peacekeepers from the Philippine battalion were abducted on Tuesday in the so-called Area of Limitation between Syria and Israel.
Albert del Rosario, Philippine foreign affairs secretary, said on Friday he wanted all Filipino peacekeepers pulled out of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as soon as possible.
Del Rosario said he would make the recommendation to Benigno Aquino, Philippine president, to withdraw the more than 300 troops, and it was up to him to make the decision.
“As soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible,” del Rosario said.
“The people that abducted our peacekeepers were actually under siege and they are using our people to get themselves out of the situation they find themselves in. That thing is not for us.”