Hizbollah chief vows vengeance on Israel

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The leader of the Hizbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon personally swore revenge against Israel yesterday for the massacre of refugees at the United Nations base at Qana last month.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent on Sunday - his first since Israel's "Operation Grapes of Wrath" - Sayed Hassan Nasrallah said his militia would attack Israeli occupation troops in southern Lebanon because "they were responsible for killing our people in Qana and they occupy our land".

Speaking in Beirut's southern suburbs, the secretary-general of the "Party of God" accused President Bill Clinton of ordering the Israeli offensive, but he claimed victory belonged to the Hizbollah because Israel had failed in all its objectives.

Mr Nasrallah, who personally commanded military operations during the 16-day battle, revealed that he had sent dozens of suicide bombers to front line villages in anticipation of an Israeli ground offensive.

Only 14 of his men had been killed in the Israeli onslaught, he said. As for himself, he looked forward to his own death so that he could live in "a world without Clinton or Peres, with no atrocities, where no children are killed".

The new ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Hizbollah would be respected by his men, he said, but this would not prevent Hizbollah attacks on Israeli soldiers in the Israeli-occupied strip in south Lebanon.

"We are going to retaliate against the Israeli armed forces in our occupied land and through the usual operations of the resistance," he said. "We are going to take revenge on the Israeli armed forces; they were responsible for killing our people in Qana and they occupy our land. I know very well that the Israelis are uneasy now. They are very anxious." He said reports from New York on the UN investigation into the Qana massacre - in which up to 120 refugees died - "confirmed that it was a deliberate action".

Since the previous Israeli-Hizbollah ceasefire in 1993, the Hizbollah have killed 61 Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon, and Sayed Nasrallah clearly expects an Israeli ground offensive that would place its troops at the mercy of the militia's suicide squads. When I asked him if the 60 or so young men of a so-called "martyrs' brigade" shown kissing a Koran on Hizbollah's television station during the war were real, he laughed.

"What do you think?" he asked. "Are we kidding? We called on these people after a few days because we assumed that after the heavy bombardments there would be an Israeli ground offensive. These men went to the front lines and they were ready - if the Israelis entered any village - to cause heavy casualties among the Israelis so they would be forced to retreat."