Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared in public for the first time in almost two years today, declaring his continued support for Palestinians to ecstatic cheers from a Beirut crowd.
The speech appeared designed to deflect criticism that Hezbollah’s recent decision to support President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war was distracting them from the cause of Palestinian resistance.
“Israel poses a danger on all people of this region... including Lebanon, and removing it is a Lebanese national interest,” he told hundreds of supporters in his half-hour speech in Beirut’s Sayyed al-Shuadaa Complex.
At the same time, he played on the rising sectarian differences that are increasingly threatening the region, saying: “I always talk as a Muslim, or nationalist. Allow me to talk as a Shia now. We… will never give up on Occupied Palestine.”
Nasrallah blamed rising sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias on Israel, the US and the English, saying that these countries were inciting divisions within Islam to distract attention from the Palestinian cause.
He has rarely appeared in public since Hezbollah’s inconclusive war against Israel in July 2006, and usually transmits his speeches via video link from undisclosed locations.
His last major speech came a month after that conflict, when he declared victory in front of thousands of supporters. Since then, he has made occasional and brief public appearances – most recently last September – but no lengthy public address.
The live appearance coincided with a similarly rare public outing by Hezbollah’s ally and patron, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who spoke today in Daaraya, south-west of Damascus. The two leaders have coordinated public relations efforts before, with Assad and Nasrallah announcing their intention to target the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel in May 2013.