Nasrallah declares unprecedented 'victory' over Jewish state

Posted in Broader Middle East | 15-Aug-06 | Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Hizbullah's leader declared Monday that his fighters had achieved a "strategic and historic victory" over Israel and that it was "wrong timing and immoral" to publicly discuss disarming the group. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah'sremarks came in a speech televised about 12 hours after heavy fighting in South Lebanon stopped abruptly under a UN-brokered cease-fire, sending tens of thousands of displaced Lebanese back toward their homes.

"We are before a strategic and historic victory, without any exaggeration, for all of Lebanon, the resistance and the whole of the Arab nation," Nasrallah said. "We came out victorious in a war in which big Arab armies were defeated [before]."

Addressing the 1 million Lebanese displaced by the war, Nasrallah vowed to immediately begin paying money to thousands of families whose homes were completely destroyed in Israel's campaign.

"From [Tuesday] ... we will pay compensation, a certain amount of money for every family to rent for one year, plus buy furniture for those whose homes were totally destroyed," he said. "These number 15,000. Tomorrow morning we will start."

Nasrallah said his group would also help pay for those whose homes were damaged, promising the displaced that they will "not need to ask anyone for money or wait in queues" to receive aid. He said teams from Hizbullah would start clearing rubble and repairing damaged homes on Tuesday.

Addressing the sensitive issue of disarmament, Nasrallah had strong words for Lebanese politicians who have publicly revived the debate, stressing that now was not the time. He said that the issue should be addressed in secret sessions to avoid serving Israeli interests.

"This is immoral, incorrect and inappropriate," he said. "It is wrong timing on the psychological and moral level."

The issue of disarmament cannot be resolved "in haste ... or by intimidation, pressure or provocation," he added, accusing critics of absolute disregard to the plight of a large section of Lebanese society, which still supports the resistance.

He said he supported a Lebanese Army deployment south of the Litani River but also argued that neither the army nor UN peacekeepers would be able to defend Lebanon. "Who will defend Lebanon in the event of a new Israeli offensive?" he asked. "The Lebanese Army and international troops are incapable of protecting Lebanon."

But he said he was open to dialogue about Hizbullah's weapons at the appropriate time. And he credited his group's arms with proving to Israel that "war with Lebanon will not be a picnic. It will be very costly."

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made no apologies for having launched the war, arguing that it had changed the face of the Middle East to the Jewish state's benefit.

"The actions of the Israeli military in the air, on the sea and on the ground have brought about a change in the regional strategic balance," said Olmert. "There is no more state within a state," he added, while facing criticism at home that the massive onslaught failed to defeat Hizbullah.

But Olmert acknowledged "shortcomings" in the conduct of the war and told Parliament he bore full responsibility. Three opposition MPs were removed from the session for heckling.

He also vowed to hunt down leaders of Hizbullah.

"These people will not be left alone. We will continue pursuing them anywhere, all the time," said Olmert.

In Damascus, official media outlets said President Bashar Assad would speak to reporters about the conflict on Tuesday in his first public statement on the subject since the war began.

On the ground, Lebanese police said the Israeli Army had withdrawn from the eastern sector of the border region. But thousands of Israeli troops remained in the South, and they are not expected to leave until an expanded UNIFIL peacekeeping force arrives alongside Lebanese Army troops.

The mayor of Marjayoun, occupied Thursday, said Israeli forces had pulled out Monday, but only after having blown up part of the Lebanese Army barracks in the city.

Israel said it would continue its blockade of Lebanese ports but was no longer threatening to shoot any cars that move on roads south of the Litani. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to work to end the blockade.

The scenes of destruction in Beirut's southern suburbs and the south, especially in villages along the border, were described by an AP reporter as "unimaginable." In Bint Jbeil large sections of the city center lay in ruins. The Greek Orthodox church was badly damaged, with a confessional pushed against the main doors by people who took refuge there.

In the village of Kafra, further north, returning residents found whole sections flattened and shrubs scorched. Some buildings still smoldered from attacks shortly before the cease-fire took effect.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed that the Israeli Army would not allow Hizbullah to return to South Lebanon, warning that Israel would not consider its offensive to be complete until the group returned the two soldiers captured on July 12.

A new opinion poll on the YNet news Web site showed 58 percent of Israelis believed the government had achieved none or just a small part of its goals in the war.

Minutes before the truce began, an Israeli air strike on a van near the eastern city of Baalbek killed seven people, Lebanese medics said. Earlier raids killed at least 11 people.

On Sunday, Hizbullah lobbed 250 rockets at northern Israel, the group's heaviest barrage since the war began.

The Israeli Army said that nine of its soldiers were killed and 25 wounded in fighting on Sunday. - Agencies