The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has warned of possible escalation as his militia engages in cross-border fighting with Israel.
In his first speech since the outbreak of the war, Hassan Nasrallah said all options on the Lebanese front were open and the group was “ready for all possibilities” – as well as for US warships.
“Your fleets in the Mediterranean… will not scare us,” he said of US military deployments in the region.
Nasrallah stopped short of announcing that Hezbollah was fully engaging in the Israel-Hamas war – but said the fighting on the Lebanon-Israel border would “not be limited” to the scale seen until now and that all options are “on the table”.
Other key developments:
• Blinken says ‘we need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians’
• Netanyahu tells Lebanon: “Don’t test us, you will pay dearly”
• Israeli military says it has ‘completed encirclement’ of Gaza City
• Scottish leader’s in-laws leave Gaza after ‘living nightmare’
Nasrallah denied any suggestion of Hezbollah involvement in the attack launched by Hamas against Israel on 7 October, saying it was “100% Palestinian”.
He also paid tribute to the Lebanese and Palestinian “martyrs” killed in the conflict.
“My brothers and sisters peace be upon you all,” he said. “We are here today to remember those who are models of Hezbollah.”
The speech was televised live across Beirut, with thousands gathering to watch it and celebratory gunshots ringing out over the capital.
Who are Hezbollah and how many fighters do they have?
Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in the middle of Lebanon’s civil war, which raged for 15 years from 1975 to 1990.
It was born out of Iran’s efforts to export its 1979 Islamic Revolution around the region – and combat Israeli forces after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
Hezbollah – whose name means “The Party of God” – has earned a reputation for extremism and has frequently carried out attacks on foreign targets.
Regarded as an Iranian proxy force – the group has been trained and equipped by Tehran – Hezbollah has risen from a shadowy faction to a heavily armed group that has major sway within Lebanon.
In 2021, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the group had 100,000 fighters – though this is possibly an exaggeration.
In 2022, the Institute for Strategic Studies thinktank estimated that the group may have up to 20,000 active personnel.
Its fighters are battle hardened, having fought extensively in Syria in support of President Bashar al Assad.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel where he said their two countries need to “continue to prevent escalation of this conflict”.
He said during a news conference in Tel Aviv: “The United States has, and we will, continue to respond to attacks by Iran’s proxies to defend our personnel in the region, personnel who are here in Iraq and in Syria to help prevent the resurgence of ISIS. We will do what is necessary to deter and, as I said, respond to any attacks.”
Mr Blinken also said said there is no reason for Palestinian civilians to “suffer” in Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
He said: “We need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.
“There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight.”
Speaking on Friday, Mr Netanyahu ruled out a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip until hostages held by Hamas are released.
“I tell our enemies in the north, don’t test us, you will pay dearly,” he added.
Nasrallah is a leading voice in a regional military alliance established by Iran to counter the US and Israel, known as the “Axis of Resistance”.
His address comes after Hezbollah yesterday mounted what appeared to be its biggest attack on Israel so far.
It claimed to have launched 19 simultaneous strikes on Israeli army positions and used explosive drones for the first time.