BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Thursday to keep his forces in Syria where they are fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, in a rare public speech delivered in Beirut.
Nasrallah, who normally appears via video link for fear of assassination by arch enemy Israel, spoke in Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold to mark the Ashura rituals.
“We have said on several occasions that the presence of our soldiers on Syrian soil is to defend… Syria, which supports the resistance” against Israel, said the Lebanese Shiite leader.
“Our presence there is justified,” he told hundreds of thousands marking a Shiite commemoration.
“Those who speak of our withdrawal from Syria as a condition to form a government in Lebanon know that it is an impossible condition,” said Nasrallah.
“We won’t negotiate on the existence of Syria (in exchange for) a handful of ministries.”
Lebanon has been without a government for seven months due to political divisions between Hezbollah and parties opposed to its military action in neighbouring Syria.
The powerful Shiite movement says its fight alongside the Assad regime is aimed at combatting Sunni extremists who are targeting Syria’s Shiite and Christian minorities.
Nasrallah was speaking to tens of thousands of people who took to the streets of south Beirut to commemorate Ashura, the most important date on the Shiite Muslim calendar.
Ashura, which climaxes on Thursday, commemorates the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
The Lebanese army stepped up security for the occasion in the southern suburbs of the capital on Thursday, with tanks and troops deployed, and checkpoints set up.