BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned the United States Monday against broadcasting the full version of an anti-Islam film, in a rare public speech at a rally attended by tens of thousands in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon urged American citizens to stay away from areas where further protests against the film are planned, and the State Department updated its travel warning for the country.
“The U.S. should know that broadcasting the full version of the movie will have very, very, very dangerous repercussions worldwide,” a visibly emotional Nasrallah said.
“If 12 minutes of the film can [create such a reaction as this], what would be the result if the full version was out?” the Hezbollah leader asked.
Nasrallah surprised the crowds who had gathered to protest the film with his unexpected public appearance. Surrounded by bodyguards, he made his way to a nearby stage.
“We are here to express our rejection [of the film] and [announce] the beginning of action that should continue to achieve clear goals,” Nasrallah said.
“First, halting the broadcast of the insulting parts on Internet and holding the producers of this film accountable,” said Nasrallah, who was interrupted several times by the enthusiastic crowds who were energized by his appearance.
The Hezbollah leader also demanded that U.S. authorities prohibit the broadcasting of the full version of the film and called for completely preventing the possibility of “insulting our Prophet, Quran and sanctities.”
The 12-minute trailer for the “Innocence of Muslims,” a low-budget movie that originated in the U.S., has triggered a series of demonstrations in the region against U.S. and other foreign missions.
The clip, available on YouTube in many countries, depicts the Prophet Mohammad as a pedophile, womanizer and charlatan.
“Let all the world hear this statement: ‘Prophet, I sacrifice for you my blood, parents, children and all my money,” Nasrallah said. Tens of thousands of men, women and children marched in the Beirut southern suburbs, heeding a call by the Hezbollah leader a day earlier to take to streets under the slogan “Loyalty to the Greatest Prophet.”
Men carried their children on their shoulders, with bands wrapped round their foreheads reading: “We obey your commands, Prophet.”
Others carried Hezbollah, Amal and Lebanese flags along with banners attacking the U.S. and condemning insults against the Prophet. A few of the protesters carried Syrian flags and portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Angry demonstrators set Israel’s flag ablaze.
“The Muslim community will not accept being offended,” read one banner.
“Death to America! Death to Israel! Mohammad is my Prophet, Mohammad is my leader,” chanted protesters.
“We came here to raise our voice so that the world will understand that our Prophet cannot be insulted,” said Mohammad Awada, a computer engineer.
“There is a huge campaign to humiliate Muslims and tarnish the image of Islam ... I came here heeding the call of [Hezbollah’s] secretary-general [to demonstrate],” added Awada, marching with his two kids who were carrying Hezbollah flags.
Sitting on a chair in a nearby sidewalk, Sarah said she would sacrifice her blood and children for the Prophet Mohammad.
“I am marching today for the sake of the Prophet; if it wasn’t for the Prophet, there would be no Islam,” said Sarah, who like her three daughters, was wearing a chador and carrying a Hezbollah flag.
“We tell the U.S. that no matter what you do, God willing, Islam will survive and move forward,” she said.
Hezbollah’s security personnel – better known as “indibat” – charged with preserving order during demonstrations, were deployed along the streets, some with sniffer dogs. Members of the party’s Islamic Health Committee were also on hand.
Nasrallah accused the U.S. Sunday of standing behind the video in an effort to sow strife between Christians and Muslims and called for several protests across Lebanon this week.
In light of these calls, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon Monday urged U.S. nationals residing in the country to stay away from areas witnessing demonstrations.
“U.S. citizens are warned that demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violent clashes. U.S. citizens are also reminded that demonstrations and riots can occur with little or no warning,” a statement by the Embassy said.
The U.S. also updated its travel warning to Lebanon, urging nationals to avoid all travel to the country.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon have begun to destroy classified material as a security precaution in light of protests in the country and the region.
A State Department status report obtained by AP said the embassy had “reviewed its emergency procedures and is beginning to destroy classified holdings.”
The U.S. Embassy had yet to confirm or deny the reports as The Daily Star went to press.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told a local radio station that the ministry has coordinated with security bodies to protect U.S. institutions in Lebanon. “The Lebanese earns his living from these institutions,” Charbel said.
Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel criticized Nasrallah’s call for the nationwide rallies, questioning Hezbollah’s ability to guarantee peaceful demonstrations after a protest against the film in the northern city of Tripoli left one dead.
For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for international and Arab action against the film.
“We believe that there is a need for swift practical steps and international and Arab action which embodies unanimous rejection of this film and thwarts suspicious plans behind its production and broadcast,” Mikati said during a meeting at the Grand Serail.
Separately, sources told The Daily Star that President Michel Sleiman and Mikati admonished Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour during a Cabinet session Monday for not consulting the Cabinet when he urged Arab League Chief Nabil Elarabi the day before to call for an emergency meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers over the film. Lebanon is currently the chair of the Arab League.
Addressing ministers at the beginning of the session, Sleiman said that responding to the film could take place through an Arab initiative on the part of the Arab League.
“This initiative is in line with human rights and public freedoms ... that’s why we call on the foreign minister to start preparing to propose it,” Sleiman was quoted as saying. – With additional reporting by Dana Khraiche