Hezbollah chief in first public address since 2006 - AFP - December 6, 2011
An image grab taken from the Hezbollah-run Manar TV shows Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah delivering a speech in southern Beirut on December 6, 2011 in first public appearance since 2008. Photo by AFP
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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance at a Beirut rally on Tuesday, saying his group was building its military capabilities and is always ready to confront Israel.

"Day by day our arsenal is developing and our numbers are growing and we are always ready to confront the Zionist enemy and their allies the United States to protect our land," Nasrallah told thousands of supporters in his group's Dahiyeh stronghold in Beirut.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since his Shiite Muslim group battled Israel in a month-long war in 2006, fearing Israeli assassination. Since then, he has communicated with his followers and gives news conference mostly via satellite link, and his last public appearance was in 2008.

But on Tuesday, the black-turbaned Nasrallah was seen walking through a throng of people in a southern Shiite stronghold in Beirut and then greeted crowds from the podium.

"I wanted to be with you for few minutes ... to renew our pledge and for the world to hear us," Nasrallah said. His public appearance, he said, was a message to those who believe they can "threaten us," he added.

A smiling Nasrallah then left the podium, telling tens of thousands of supporters he will reappear in few minutes on a giant screen for a longer speech.

"See you in few minutes," he joked to his followers before he left.

In his speech, Nasrallah told the crowds that, “The Lebanese opposition carries a power whose breadth the enemy does not know, and it will surprise it in any future clash. Since 1982 we are the ones taking the initative, and we do not pay attention to international criticism.”

Nasrallah mainly spoke about internal Lebanese criticism of Hezbollah, and the calls for it to disarm.

“Whoever tries to go against Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal, is doing a great service to Israel,” Nasrallah said. “We will continue to hold our weapons day after day, we are only adding strength and improving our military capabilities.”

Nasrallah hinted at the situation of neighboring Syria’s President Bashar Assad. “If there is someone who is counting on the fact that our weapons are going rusty, we say to them that our arsenal is constantly renewing.

We have a clear message to all those who are weaving conspiracies and are waiting for changes in the area - we say to them that the opposition will remain and will stay active and you will not manage to break us.”

He also talked about Israel, saying that “The main threat to us is the Israeli threat and we are committed to preserve the triangle of the military, the nation and the opposition.”

His appearance is meant to portray confidence at a time of upheaval in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, which along with Iran is Hezbollah's backer.

Syrians and Arabs around the region have in recent years elevated Nasrallah to the status of a nationalist hero after his guerrillas' 2006 war with Israel.

Since the Syrian uprising, however, Syrians have unleashed their anger at Hezbollah over its blunt support for the regime of President Bashar Assad. Some protesters in Syria have set fire to the yellow flag of Hezbollah and pictures of Nasrallah.

Ashoura marks the anniversary of the death in the seventh century of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein. His death in a battle outside of the Iraqi city of Karbala sealed Islam's historical Sunni-Shiite split, which still bedevils the Middle East.

Ashoura is one of the holiest days of the Muslim Shiite calendar.

 Read this article in Hebrew: לראשונה מ-2008: נסראללה הופיע בפני קהל