Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said that a wider regional escalation could not be ruled out if Israel continues its war in Gaza, in his first speech since the war broke out.
Tens of thousands of people watched the widely anticipated televised address on Friday from rallies called by the Lebanese group to honour fallen fighters.
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In his lengthy remarks, Nasrallah said that “all scenarios are open on our Lebanese southern front” and that “what happens on the Lebanese front will depend on what happens in Gaza”, calling on Israel to stop its attacks on the besieged strip to avoid a regional conflagration.
Nasrallah said Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel was “100 percent Palestinian” and expressed support for the Palestinian group, but stopped short of declaring all-out war against Israel, as many had feared.
The Hezbollah leader praised the Hamas attack four weeks ago, which targeted villages and military posts in southern Israel. More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel in that attack, mostly civilians according to Israeli authorities.
Since then, more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed in an air and ground assault by the Israeli military on Gaza, most of them women and children.
“This great, large-scale operation was purely the result of Palestinian planning and implementation,” Nasrallah said, suggesting Hezbollah had no part in the attack. “The great secrecy made this operation greatly successful.”
US ‘responsible’ for the war
Nasrallah said that one of the biggest mistakes Israel was making now in its war against Hamas in Gaza was pursuing goals that it cannot achieve.
“For a whole month, Israel could not offer a single military achievement,” he said, adding that Israel can only get back hostages through negotiation.
Nasrallah blamed the conflict and high Palestinian civilian death toll on the United States, as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu told Blinken that he rejected any temporary halt to the fighting that did not include the release of the more than 200 Israeli hostages. “We won’t stop until victory,” Netanyahu said, adding that this means “to destroy Hamas, [and attain the] return of the hostages and the restoration of security for our citizens and children”.
“The United States is totally responsible for the war raging in Gaza,” Nasrallah said.
Blinken acknowledged that more needed to be done to “protect Palestinian civilians” in Gaza and that, without that, there will be “no partners for peace”.
Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv on Friday, Blinken also said, “We need to substantially and immediately increase the sustainable humanitarian assistance” into Gaza.
‘Enable resistance to triumph’
Nasrallah said the two objectives of the group now were to end the war and “enable the resistance to triumph”.
He said “the victory of Gaza means the victory of the Palestinian people,” and that that would be in the interest of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, as well as Lebanon. He called on the Arab world to recall their ambassadors and cut off oil and gas and food supplies to Israel.
Since the beginning of the war, Hezbollah, an ally of the armed Palestinian group Hamas, had taken calculated steps to keep Israel’s military busy on its border with Lebanon, but not to the extent of igniting an all-out war.
Nasrallah insisted that Hezbollah has “been in this battle since October 8”, pointing out that what’s happening on the border is “unprecedented since 1948”, when Israel was created and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced during the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.
Celebratory gunshots rang out over Lebanon’s capital Beirut as thousands packed into a square in the southern suburbs to watch the speech, which many people in Lebanon were anxiously awaiting, rattled for weeks by fears the conflict could spread to the rest of the region.
His address was also keenly watched outside Lebanon, as Nasrallah is a leading voice in the informal alliance known as the “Axis of Resistance”, led by Iran to counter the influence of the United States and Israel.
The coalition includes Shia Muslim Iraqi militias, which have been firing at US forces in Syria and Iraq, and Yemen’s Houthis, who have waded into the conflict by firing drones at Israel.
The speech came a day after the most significant escalation in clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the border since the war started.