x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hizbollah chief makes rare public address in Beirut

Hassan Nasrallah said he will arm his fighters more heavily than ever after making his first public appearance since 2008 before a frenzied crowd in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

BEIRUT // Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chief, said he will arm his fighters more heavily than ever after making a rare appearance before a frenzied crowd in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Marking the Shiite commemoration of Ashura, Mr Nasrallah spoke to the crowd of thousands assembled in his stronghold for only a few minutes before being whisked away by bodyguards.

In a speech broadcast on large screens to the crowd shortly after his departure, Mr Nasrallah vowed his Iranian-backed group would continue to arm regardless of "regional change", hinting at neighbouring Syria.

"A message to all those who are conspiring against the resistance and banking on change [in the Arab world] ... We will never let go of our arms," said the leader.

"Day after day, the resistance gains more fighters, trains better fighters and arms even more heavily.

"Every weapon that rusts is replaced."

Many observers say the Syria crisis, which is threatening to topple the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, a major ally of Hizbollah, has dealt a severe blow to the Lebanese group.

Considered a prime target for Israel, Mr Nasrallah last appeared in public in July 2008, on the occasion of the release of five Lebanese prisoners by Israel.

Hizbollah, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006 that left much of Lebanon in ruins.