Nasrallah refutes rumors of his illness, injury

Nasrallah refutes rumors of his illness, injury

In a televised address, the Lebanese Shiite leader accuses the United States of fanning sectarian flames

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2/Al Manar)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2/Al Manar)

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah denied reports he was sick with cancer or injured in fighting on the Syrian border, during a televised address Wednesday evening.

Nasrallah dedicated most of his 50 minute speech — ostensibly broadcast live from a studio — to domestic Lebanese politics and to refuting accusations that Hezbollah actively supported the regime of Bashar Assad. He said that rumors of his illness were part of a “media campaign” waged against Hezbollah.

“The rumors spread in the previous days made me hold an urgent media appearance to show you that I am in good health,” he said. “I’m here, in the flesh, to tell you that these rumors are baseless.”

Lebanese online radio site Sawt Beirut International reported over the last two days that Nasrallah is ill with an aggressive form of cancer, and was flown to Iran on Monday where he was receiving treatment by a team of doctors from Iran and Venezuela.

The station had predicted that Nasrallah’s Wednesday broadcast would come from the holy city of Qom in Iran, but Hezbollah mouthpiece Al-Manar, which broadcast the speech, claimed Nasrallah was still in Lebanon.

Separately, various sources in the Free Syrian Army reported both that Nasrallah was injured on the border with Syria, and that his deputy Naim Qassem had been hurt — or possibly even killed — while riding in a Syrian military convoy. Nasrallah called those reports “false fabrications.”

The Shiite leader came out in support of a new election law that would turn Lebanon into one voting district, making the parliament more representative of Lebanese population. He objected to the postponement of elections, currently scheduled for June.

Addressing reports that Hezbollah was engaged in taking over Sunni villages inside Syria, Nasrallah argued that the opposite was true: armed Sunni groups had invaded Shiite villages in Syria and expelled their inhabitants. The local Shiite villagers were merely practicing their right to self defense, he said.

Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United States of backing the Sunni groups. He dedicated a sizable portion of his speech to attacking the American ambassador to Lebanon, as well as Sunni elements in the country, for fanning the flames of sectarianism and accusing Hezbollah of recent violent acts perpetrated across Lebanon.

“There is someone pushing Lebanon quickly into sectarian clashes and working day and night toward achieving this and a clash between Sunnis and Shiites,” he said. “This destroys everyone, and enflames the country and no one has an interest in that.”

Nasrallah last appeared onscreen on February 16 during a Hezbollah rally in Beirut’s southern suburb. He last appeared in public in September 2012 during a Beirut demonstration against a film found offensive to the prophet Muhammad.

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