Response to killing of Hamas leader in Beirut ‘inevitable’, says Hezbollah chief Nasrallah

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel on Friday that the group will “inevitably” respond to the assassination of Hamas’s deputy political leader in Beirut this week, saying it “cannot remain silent” to such an incursion on Lebanese territory.  

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“The response is inevitably coming. We cannot remain silent on a violation of this magnitude because it means the whole of Lebanon would be exposed,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. 

Nasrallah appeared to be making the case for a response to the Lebanese public at the risk of escalating the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel. But he gave no indication of how or when his group would act.

There will be a “response and punishment”, he said in his second speech since the killing of Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday. “The decision is now in the hands of the battlefield,” he added.

“Fighters from all areas of the border … will be the ones responding to the dangerous violation in the [southern] suburbs [of Beirut],” he said.

 Arouri is the most high-profile Hamas figure to be killed since the October 7 attack in Israel that left more than 1,100 dead.

The Lebanese government holds Israel responsible for Tuesday’s strike in Beirut and has filed a complaint to the UN Security Council over the suspected assassination of Arouri as well as Israel’s use of Lebanese airspace to bomb Syria. 

Israel neither confirms nor denies targeted strikes outside its territory. While Israel has not admitted to Arouri’s killing, the head of Mossad vowed this week that the intelligence service would track down every Hamas member behind the October 7 attack.

Nasrallah said it was the first strike by Israel in the Lebanese capital since the 2006 Lebanon war.

“We cannot keep silent about a violation of this seriousness,” he said, “because this means that all of our people will be exposed [to targeting]. All of our cities, villages and public figures will be exposed.”

The repercussions of silence are “far greater” than the risks of retaliating, he added.

Hezbollah and its arch foe Israel have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, but the Arouri killing has led to fears of an escalation.

Since hostilities began, the group has carried out around 670 operations, targeting 48 Israeli border positions and 11 rear sites, Nasrallah said.

Gaza war opens ‘historic opportunity’ for Lebanon, says Nasrallah

The Gaza war has opened “a historic opportunity to completely liberate every inch of our Lebanese land”, Nasrallah said, referring notably to southern Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms and the town of Ghajar.

Israel has held Shebaa Farms, a 15-square-mile (39-square-km) patch of land, since 1967. Both Syria and Lebanon claim the territory is Lebanese. Ghajar straddles the Israel-Lebanon border and Lebanon considers it to be its territory, although its residents have professed allegiance to Syria. 

Nasrallah’s comments on the southern Lebanese territories came as US special envoy Amos Hochstein met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a bid to soothe tensions.

Hezbollah’s cross-border attacks aim to engage Israeli forces away from Gaza, Nasrallah said, and the only way to stop them is “to stop the aggression on Gaza”.

Israeli officials have threatened greater military action against Hezbollah unless it withdraws it fighters from Lebanese territory near their shared border.

A pullback – called for under a 2006 UN truce but never implemented – is necessary to stop barrages and allow the return of tens of thousands of Israelis to homes they evacuated near the border, Israel says.

Nasrallah boasted about the evacuations, saying that after Israel had forced Lebanese populations to flee in past conflicts, Hezbollah has now done the same to Israel.

The escalating war of words has prompted a succession of Western diplomats to converge on Beirut to urge restraint. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the latest to arrive in the region, landing in Turkey on Friday as part of a Middle East tour amid mounting fears the war in Gaza will become a larger regional conflict. 

Nasrallah also accused Israel of under-reporting its military losses, claiming Hezbollah has released footage showing “tanks exploding … sometimes with soldiers sitting on top of them”.

Nearly three months of cross-border fire have killed 175 people in Lebanon, including 129 Hezbollah fighters, but also more than 20 civilians including three journalists, according to an AFP tally.

In northern Israel, nine soldiers and at least four civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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