Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance on Monday in the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs, addressing thousands of his supporters ahead of the Shiite Ashura commemorations.
As he appeared on stage wearing a black robe and turban, the crowd seen in a live broadcast on Hezbollah’s al-Manar television began cheering wildly, as they apparently had not expected to see him.
The head of the Shiite group, whose forces are fighting in Syria alongside the troops of President Bashar Assad, usually addresses supporters via video link for fear of assassination by Israel, and had not appeared in public since July when he attended a rally to show support for the Gaza Strip.
Monday’s appearance marks his sixth since his group fought Israel in a devastating and deadly war in 2006.
In his speech, the Hezbollah chief spoke about the civil war raging in neighboring Syria, internal Lebanese politics, and Iranian support for the Lebanese Army.
Nasrallah maintained that the Arab Spring has given rise to a conflict that is not sectarian, but political.
“Is the conflict in Libya sectarian? Is the conflict in Egypt sectarian? Are Shiites battling Sunnis in these countries? No. Is targeting Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other minorities in Iraq and Syria related to a Shiite-Sunni conflict? Of course not,” he was quoted as saying by the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese paper al-Akhbar.
“We must realize that the conflict in the region is not a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites,” continued Nasrallah.
“I address Sunnis in the region: Shiites are not at war with you. We are both, together, at war with extremist groups like the Islamic State,” he said, adding the Islamist groups want to eliminate those who oppose them.
#Nasrallah: I address all Shias in the region: You need to understand that Sunnis are not our enemies. We are not at war with Sunnis.
— Al-Akhbar English (@AlakhbarEnglish) November 3, 2014
With regards to Iran, Nasrallah thanked Tehran for the military aid announced last month to the Lebanese Army, which is expected to include “semi- heavy machine guns and ammunition, 120 mm mortars, 120 mm ammunition, 60 mm ammunition, TOW anti-armor missiles, TOW rockets, 155 mm artillery shells, night vision goggles, and T-55 and T-62 tank ammunition,” according to The Daily Star.
“Iran’s military grant is unconditional. Iran considers the grant as a token of its appreciation for Lebanon and its army,” he continued.
Iran’s military package was aimed at bolstering the Lebanese Army, which has been fighting the Syrian rebel group the al-Nusra Front in the border town of Arsal.
The al-Qaeda group in Syria is holding at least 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen captive.
Hezbollah’s fighters also clashed with the jihadists in eastern Lebanon in October, and its strongholds have come under repeated bomb attacks over its involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Nasrallah’s address Monday came ahead of the peak of Ashura, a festival that marks the killing of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures of Shiite Islam and grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Hussein was killed at the hands of soldiers of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD, an event that lies at the heart of Islam’s sectarian divide into Shiite and Sunni sects.
Lebanese police will close off the Shiite-majority southern suburbs of Beirut for Ashura from midnight until the end of the commemorations.
Hezbollah is planning to hold a massive rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Tuesday to mark Ashura, and Nasrallah is due to address the crowds again.