(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday said that his organization's weapons would be used against Israel, and Israel only.
In a speech made to thousands of supporters in central Beirut - his strongest-ever attack on the government - Nasrallah vowed to bring down the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
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"We will not lift our weapons in the face of anyone. We don't need weapons to defeat you," Nasrallah said, adding that Hizbullah would use its arms only against Israelis.
"We will defeat you with our voices," he said.
He accused Saniora of conniving with Israel during the recent war, alleging he ordered Lebanese soldiers to seize weapons being delivered to Hizbullah guerrillas.
"Didn't the prime minister of Lebanon
work to cut off the supply lines?" Nasrallah said.
He said members of the government, whom he would not name, had asked American envoys to get Israel to destroy Hizbullah.
"Those are the ones responsible for the war, not the resistance," Nasrallah said.
The man who was Lebanon's acting interior minister during the war, Ahmed Fatfat, dismissed Nasrallah's accusations as "false stories about the war."
Speaking to Associated Press Television News, Fatfat said the charges would strengthen the Lebanese government's resolve.
Fatfat, who is now minister of youth and sports, told Al-Arabiya television that the Nasrallah's accusation was also "very dangerous because it means bloodshed for Saniora and me."
In his speech, delivered on huge screens in two central Beirut squares, Nasrallah said the opposition's daily protests would continue until it achieved a bigger share of the Cabinet, but he also said he was prepared to negotiate and violence was not an option.
The Western-backed Saniora, who is supported by the anti-Syrian majority in parliament, has repeatedly refused to resign and has rejected the demand by Hizbullah and its pro-Syrian allies for a veto-wielding share of the Cabinet.
"Negotiate with us and we will talk to you," Nasrallah said, addressing what he called the "illegitimate government."
"But in the name of all those gathered here, we will not leave the streets before achieving the goal that saves Lebanon," he said, to roars of approval from the crowd.
It was only the second time since the August cease-fire that Nasrallah had spoken live to a mass rally. The first time - in September - he appeared at the rally in southern Beirut. On Thursday night, he did not appear for security reasons, but spoke via video link to huge screens set up in Riad Solh Square and Martyrs' Square, pausing occasionally for the crowds to stop cheering.
Hizbullah and its opposition allies have staged daily protests for the past week in a bid to force the government's resignation. Saniora has been holed up in the main government office complex, which is ringed by troops, riot police and barbed wire.
Nasrallah referred to warnings from politicians from all sides, as well as the commander of the national army, that the mass protests could turn increasingly violent and drag the country back to the sectarian civil war of 1975-90. One young Shiite Muslim was shot dead in a riot in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area on Sunday night.
The speech seemed to be an attempt to prime the opposition for the massive demonstration that it plans to convene in central Beirut on Sunday. In a statement published in a Lebanese newspaper, the opposition called on its supporters to take part in "a historic and decisive" demonstration that aimed to replace "one-color government with a national unity government" - Hizbullah parlance for a Cabinet in which it and its allies have a third of the seats.
Earlier Thursday, Saniora said he would stand firm and the Cabinet was "constitutional and legitimate."