Text size

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday told tens of thousands of supporters in Beirut that Israel could be eliminated and that the prowess of its army had been exaggerated by "Zionist-American propaganda."

"The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence," Nasrallah said in his address via video link, referring to Israel. "Our nation is stronger now than ever before," he added.

Nasrallah's speech was broadcast live at a rally marking the end of the 40-day mourning period for slain Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyah, who was assassinated in a car bombing in Damascus last month.

The Lebanon-based guerilla group Hezbollah has repeatedly blamed Israel for the assassination of the group's second in command, but Israel has categorically denied any involvement.

Nasrallah also addressed the negotiations over the release of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers held by Hezbollah, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and confirmed the report in Haaretz Monday that the talks were continuing.

"Although the Israelis have killed the pillar of the resistance, we did not halt the negotiations on a prisoner exchange," he said, disclosing that meetings were recently held with United Nations mediators.

"We will not stop the negotiations ... because we want to achieve one of the aspirations of martyr Imad Mughniyah, that is, to see our prisoner brothers free among their parents and loved ones," Nasrallah said.

In addition to the two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah in July 2006 triggered a summer war between Israel and Hezbollah, Nasrallah said in January his group had the remains of other soldiers killed in the fighting.

There are believed to be seven Lebanese prisoners in Israeli custody.

The Hezbollah leader also criticized what he called joint American and Israeli efforts to distort the truth through the media, saying "Zionist-American propaganda is aiming to harm our nation's consciousness. They, using their violent system, are trying to tell us that we are weak and powerless. They want to tell us that we don't have any hopes of winning."

He argued that the victories presented by the Israeli military are blown out of proportion by this propaganda machine, that has been operating for 60 years (since the establishment of the state of Israel.) "The media has aggrandized this army and the Israeli soldier, officer and general," he said.

Nasrallah stressed repeatedly the fact the Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 was a tremendous victory for his organization, both on military and psychological terms.

"There is a military political victory termed the withdrawal of the occupation army from southern Lebanon, but there is also an ideological victory in the battle of consciousness," he said.

However, he went on, in the summer of 2006 a powerful new answer became apparent. "In the July war we were attacked by the [Israeli] army and the resistance withstood the great attack, breaking and shattering the army. We found and we saw the true picture of Israel and its leaders, generals, officers, soldiers and the Israeli tank... the nation that isn't facing bombings and banishment, lived in bomb shelters for 33 days. Could Israel be wiped out of existence? Yes, and a thousand times yes."

Nasrallah said that the battle being waged by Israel make use not only of science and logic, but also of murder and terror. "You are being told that the entire world has abandoned you, your women and your children," he told his supporters.

"The world remained silent when you were massacred in Qana and in Gaza," he said, referring to the deaths of over 50 Lebanese civilians in a single Israel Air Force strike during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and the hundreds of Palestinians who have been killed in Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip.

"The battle's end is nowhere on the horizon because Israel is smart and cannot be defeated," Nasrallah continued. "However," he added, "we too have waged a war of consciousness with the Zionists, both in our defensive and offensive actions. Today, your sons and Imad Mughniyah and Jihad, who fight in Palestine and Lebanon, are creating a new Zionist consciousness.

Nasrallah also renewed his vow to retaliate for the death of Mughniyah. "The one who killed our commander must be punished. The killers must be punished and they will be punished, God willing," Nasrallah said, drawing cheers from the crowd. "We will choose the time, place and manner of punishment."

Israel has declared a heightened security alert, fearing Hezbollah guerrillas may try to carry out a major attack to avenge Mughniyah's death. The security alert coincided with the end of the 40-day mourning period for Mughniyah.