BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed Friday his party would avenge the killing of Hassan Lakkis, a party commander who was assassinated earlier this month, saying evidence collected by the group indicated Israel was behind the hit.
Nasrallah also warned against attempts to form a fait accompli Cabinet in Lebanon and voiced opposition to extending the term of President Michel Sleiman, saying the only alternative to a presidential vacuum was the election of a new head of state.
In a televised address at the commemoration ceremony of Lakkis in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Nasrallah also voiced concern for the fate of the country, implicitly accusing Saudi Arabia of seeking to destroy Lebanon over its failure in Syria.
"The assassination of Hajj Hassan Lakkis is not one of those passing incidents between us and the Israelis and nobody should think that," Nasrallah said.
“Israelis should not think that Hezbollah is too busy with the situation in the region and in Lebanon and that the timing is not right for us – this [kind of thinking] would be a mistake," he added.
Lakkis was gunned down on Dec. 4 outside his apartment building in the Beirut neighborhood of St. Therese. The Hezbollah commander played a key role in advancing the group’s technological capabilities in its fight against Israel and was a target of several attempted assassinations.
"We have an open-ended account to settle with Israel and the killers will be punished sooner or later and the blood of our martyrs will never go in vain," the Hezbollah chief said.
“The punishment is forthcoming,” Nasrallah warned.
Describing Lakkis as a longtime friend, Nasrallah said the commander’s killing was aimed at dealing a blow to Hezbollah’s capabilities and part of the price fighters sometimes had to pay for their cause.
“The assassination of Lakkis is part of the price we pay for our victories and it is a blow to the pillars and foundations of the resistance [group’s] current capabilities, readiness and its ability to develop,” he said, adding that the slain commander was one of the party’s “brightest minds.”
Turning to Israel, Nasrallah said accusing the Jewish state of killing Lakkis is “not a political accusation but one based on facts.”
“In light of how the Israeli media, the analyses and newspapers covered the event, I can safely say that they almost reached a point of officially adopting the assassination,” he added.
Nasrallah also spoke about his rivals in the March 14 coalition, saying the group had recently adopted a “very dangerous, unprecedented rhetoric,” referring to a recent Future Movement rally in the northern city of Tripoli.
During the rally, Future Movement officials and lawmakers as well as some March 14 figures blasted Hezbollah, accusing it of seeking to put Lebanon under Iran’s influence and describing the Islamic Republic as a country that "excludes, bombs and divides."
Describing such rhetoric as primarily aimed at inciting strife, Nasrallah said that there were two objectives behind the positions voiced in the northern city.
“The first is that the March 14 is saying that they will never join a dialogue table with us or form a government with us ... this can be understood as a declaration of war because they did not set a line of retreat,” Nasrallah said.
“If this is true, then tell us. We don’t want to engage in a war with you ... but no one should play with us,” he warned.
The second goal of the Tripoli gathering, according to Nasrallah, was to support a media campaign of intimidation.
He urged all parties in Lebanon to preserve a political line of retreat and leave some room for reconciliation.
Nasrallah also touched on the ongoing paralysis in the government formation process, warning Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Sleiman not to form a fait accompli Cabinet.
"I will say again that we seek a political, unifying, national government and this so-called neutral Cabinet is of trickery and deception," Nasrallah said.
"I do not advise anyone to take the initiative and form a fait accompli Cabinet," he said, adding that the alternative to paralysis is a national government.
“Whoever wants to play the role of a hero should go to regional countries like Saudi Arabia and ask it to put an end to its interference and the same thing goes to Iran or Syria .. rather than rush toward a neutral Cabinet,” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah has accused Riyadh of obstructing the formation of a new Cabinet in Lebanon through the March 14 coalition which has repeatedly demanded a neutral Cabinet of nonpartisan ministers.
Speaking on the upcoming presidential election, Nasrallah said neither the March 8 nor the March 14 coalitions sought a political vacuum.
The Lebanese, Nasrallah said, were in front of a historic opportunity to freely vote for a new president in the absence of any regional pressure.
“What we need is for someone to take initiative and launch contacts to lay out a serious roadmap to achieve this deadline,” he added, expressing hope that the March 8 group would come together to name a “strong candidate for the post of president who is appropriate for this difficult phase.”
The Hezbollah leader also took another swipe at Riyadh, accusing it of seeking to destroy Lebanon after it failed to secure a victory for opposition forces in Syria.
“I am concerned there is someone in this region that has reached a point, as a result of anger, animosity, failure and the lack of an end in sight, of taking the country toward a military explosion,” he said.
The Hezbollah said the country, which he did not name, had lost the ability to secure a victory and all hope of doing so.
"This country does not care if Lebanon is destroyed ... and has no problem with it. They are sitting in their castles eating, drinking, traveling and sailing in their yachts," he said.
"Meanwhile, there are millions of refugees living in camps, suffering from the floods and are dying of starvation and cold. They don't care if a country or two or three is destroyed," Nasrallah said. Turning to recent attacks on the Lebanese Army in the coastal city of Sidon, Nasrallah these represented even more dangerous incidents than the Nov. 19 suicide bombings against the Iranian Embassy.
“We should not underestimate the danger of these attacks and their ideological dimension, the implications of which are also very dangerous, even more dangerous than the Iran Embassy bombing and the car bombings in the Bekaa [Valley against Hezbollah],” he said.
He urged Lebanese to protect and preserve the military establishment as the last standing pillar of the Lebanese state.
“If the Army’s credibility is weakened and collapses, everything will go with it,” he said.
Nasrallah also reiterated his party would not deviate from its path in Syria and that his fighters would continue to battle alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against opposition forces.
He also criticized local and Arab media outlets, accusing them of exaggerating the number of fatalities in the ranks of Hezbollah in Syria.
Nasrallah also described the fight there as an “existential battle” for the sake of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and the resistance path in the region.