- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAALBEK, Lebanon — The leader of the militant group Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, called yesterday on all anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon to arm themselves to face the threat of Israeli attack.

“When the country faces aggression, we must be fully ready to resist,” he said, speaking to thousands of people in this eastern town on the third anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

“The one who has no weapons must obtain some, and he who does not have the will [to resist] must find it,” said the cleric, whose Iranian- and Syrian-backed militant Shi’ite Muslim movement spearheaded the resistance to Israel’s 22-year occupation of the south.

He also rejected U.S. pressure on Syria and Lebanon to disarm the movement and move it away from areas near the Israeli border, where it has held positions since the Israeli pullout May 25, 2000.

“We do not need to revise [our position] on the resistance. On the contrary, I invite all national parties… to reactivate their resistance structures because we must be ready to face all challenges,” he said. “They want to disarm us, but we refuse to do so. Today we need to keep betting on the resistance.”

But taking what he said was a “realist view,” Sheik Hassan said neither his movement nor the Lebanese army could confront Israel’s military alone.

Hezbollah waged a war of attrition that played a crucial role in ending Israel’s occupation. The Lebanon-Israel border has been quiet for the past year, except for two artillery duels between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in the disputed Shebaa Farms border area in August and January.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell used his visits to Damascus and Beirut earlier this month to demand steps to rein in the group, which Washington believes was behind some events of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the sustained kidnapping of Westerners in the mid-1980s.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in remarks published yesterday that his country would continue to support Hezbollah for as long as the group limits its operations to defending Lebanon from potential Israeli threats.

Sheik Hassan said armed resistance was the only viable weapon against occupation, and the southern Lebanon example could be repeated elsewhere in the region.

“What we want to confirm is that what happened on May 25 [2000] is not an exception but can happen in any country whose land is occupied and whose people have chosen to resist,” he said.

Hezbollah, a fixture on Washington’s list of terrorist groups, denies it was behind the Marine barracks attack and accusations that it is an internationally active terrorist group.

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