(Bloomberg) -- Hezbollah won’t be dragged into a civil war in Lebanon and has 100,000 trained fighters ready to fend off foreign attacks but won’t be used locally, the head of the Iran-backed militant group said.
In a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah warned a rival Christian group “not to miscalculate” and start a fight with the group and accused them of being behind a “planned” attack on its supporters during a protest last week.
“In the military structure of Hezbollah, aside from the weapons and the capabilities, taking into account only the Lebanese men who are trained, organized, armed and experienced (they) number 100,000,” Nasrallah said. “Those are meant to defend our country in the face of our enemies.”
He said the group buried its supporters and refrained from retaliating to “prevent a civil war.”
Armed clashes erupted last week between supporters of the Iran-backed group and its opponents in Beirut during a protest by Hezbollah to remove a judge investigating the Beirut port blast. The violence, worst in years, killed seven people and wounded dozens others.
Hezbollah claims protesters came under sniper fire, prompting them to retaliate and accused a right-wing Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, of being behind the attack. The group denies it planned an attack and the supporters say Hezbollah incited residents by shouting pro-Shiite slogans.
The conflict between the longtime rivals highlights the fragility of Lebanon’s security and political system. Sessions of the newly-formed cabinet were suspended until the controversy regarding the judge is resolved.
With Bread and Oil, Hezbollah Tightens Grip on Sinking Lebanon
Dozens of Hezbollah supporters and their allies had turned out Thursday seeking the removal of the judge, Tareq Bitar, contending he is biased and politicized.
Four former cabinet ministers implicated in the blast have also asked for Bitar’s removal, accusing him of targeting them personally. They are charged with negligence and probable intent over the blast that killed at least 220 people and wounded thousands as it ripped through swaths of central Beirut. Bitar issued an arrest warrant against one of the ministers who is also an ally of Hezbollah.
They were allegedly notified of the arrival of a vast cargo of ammonium nitrate at the port in 2014 but failed to take steps to reduce the safety risk.
Families of the victims of the Beirut blast have lobbied in favor of Bitar, fearing politicians are trying to influence the investigation to avoid justice. Bitar was named in February to lead the probe after his predecessor was removed following similar accusations from the politicians implicated.
During his speech late Monday, Nasrallah reiterated that his group was not involved in the port explosion and that the ammonium nitrate that was stored there did not belong to them.
“But that doesn’t mean we won’t be against the politicization of the investigation,” he said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
BNN Bloomberg Picks
How active is your passive investment manager (and vice versa)?
‘Huge validation’: Why Crypto.com is putting its name on the L.A. Lakers’ arena
Company holiday parties are making a comeback, but many employers have a plan B
Black Friday arrives with little fanfare as stores launch sales ahead of retail event
Flush with cash, Saudi prince snubs Biden and sends a message
Kia unveils new electric Niro SUV line-up as EV race heats up