Hezbollah chief in rare public address in Lebanon
BEIRUT - The Associated Press
In this file photo made available by the Hezbollah Media Office, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is seen in Beirut, Thursday June 21, 2007. AP PhotoThe leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah's group made a rare public appearance at a Beirut rally on Tuesday to mark the Muslim holy day of Ashoura.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since his Shiite Muslim group battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006, fearing Israeli assassination. Since then, he has communicated with his followers and gives news conference mostly via satellite link.
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.
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.