As Hezbollah Leader Blasts Israel, Iran-backed Militias Struck on Iraq-Syria Border

Hassan Nasrallah condemns 'very dangerous escalation' and blasts 'Israeli aggression' amid reports of six killed in strike on convoys

Hezbollah supporters gather to watch Nasrallah's speech in the town of Al-Ain, Lebanon, August 25, 2019.
AFP

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made one of his rare public statements on Sunday afternoon and spoke out after a day of tensions between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. 

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The Shi'ite group's leader said his speech and the presence of thousands who came to listen to him speak was the "first response to the Israeli aggression."

>> Read more: Iran wanted revenge over Iraq strike. Israel foiled it – for now | Analysis

Nasrallah claimed that Israeli strikes against targets in Syria Saturday overnight – which Israel confirmed in a rare move – were "very, very dangerous" and had actually targeted Hezbollah and not Iran. 

"[Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu is boasting of what happened in Syria and of the targeted bombing of Al Quds forces. In fact the Israeli bombing wasn't on the Iranian Al Quds, but on Hezbollah ... and it wasn’t a base, it was a home," he added, noting that two Hezbollah fighters were killed.

Nasrallah also addressed reports the drones crashed in Beirut overnight Saturday, attempting to strike the group's communications center. The drones were Israeli, the Hezbollah leader charged, and this had been "the first attack since August 14, 2006. This is a violation of the rules of engagement."

One surveillance drone was brought down by youth who were playing in the neighborhood and threw rocks on it. Shortly after, he said, "the second plane came, it was armed and it targeted buildings ... It was a suicide mission." 

Nasrallah vowed to down any Israeli drones over Lebanese skies.

He pledged to retaliate and promised a firm response: "Netanyahu, you and your army know that we're not joking. I tell the soldiers on Israel's borders, stand on the border wall with two feet and a half, and wait for us."

Nasrallah also addressed the upcoming Israeli election. "Netanyahu knows that his destiny is either in the prime minister's office or prison, he is doing this with the blood of Lebanese and Iraqis. But this time, Israelis, Netanyahu is electioneering with your own blood." 

Strikes on Iranian-backed convoys on Syria-Iraq border

While Nasrallah spoke, Lebanese television channel Al Mayadeen reported that an unidentified UAV hit two vehicles belonging to Iran-backed Shi'ite militias operating on the Syria-Iraq border. 

The strike is said to have taken place near the city of Qaim. According to Al Mayadeen, the commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces was killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, reports from Al-Jazeera said that six people were killed in the attack. The Hezbollah Brigades (and Iran-backed Iraqi parliamentary force, separate from the Lebanese group led by Nasrallah) reported that two of their members were killed in the attack.

Later, Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary groups also blamed Israel for the raids by the unmanned aircraft which they said killed at least one of their fighters near to the Syrian border.

The strikes took place 15 km (9 miles) away from the border, said a statement from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a state umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shi'ite Muslim factions. 

It said one fighter was killed and another seriously wounded. An earlier statement from the PMF's Anbar operations command said two fighters were killed. 

The PMF said two unmanned aircraft had carried out the attack. It accused the United States of providing air support to Israel for the strikes.

A security source told Reuters there were two air strikes, one of which struck the headquarters of a local paramilitary brigade, while the other struck a convoy of cars leaving the building. 

In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment.

The attack, which took place in the afternoon, happened after a series of explosions in recent weeks at weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed PMF groups.

The militias have blamed Israel and the United States for some of the attacks. The Pentagon has denied any involvement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday of possible Israeli involvement in the recent destruction of PMF weapons depots in Iraq.

"We are operating - not just if needed, we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran's plans," he said. 

Netanyahu was touring the northern border with top army brass while the reports emerged. Addressing the escalation, the premier said that "any country that enables the use of its territory to carry out strikes against Israel will bear the consequences." Netanyahu added that Israel will "uncover any Iranian attempt to attack us and any attempt to hide behind various excuses."

Israel said earlier Sunday that it had thwarted a drone attack by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force. Syrian opposition activists reported three deaths in the attack.

The Israeli army said the foiled attack entailed launching several drones at targets in northern Israel.

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied on Sunday that Iranian targets had been hit in Israeli air strikes in Syria, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

"This is a lie and not true... Israel and the United States do not have the power to attack Iran's various centers, and our [military] advisory centers have not been harmed," said Revolutionary Guards Major General Mohsen Rezaei, who is also the secretary of a powerful state body, ILNA reported.  

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition organization, said two Hezbollah operatives and an Iranian were killed in the attack.

Later overnight, Hezbollah claimed two Israeli drones crashed in Beirut.

In anticipation of possible retaliatory rocket fire, the Israel Defense Forces  deployed air defenses in northern Israel. Authorities, however, have not issued any special safety instructions for local residents. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.