nasrallah 298.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was a no-show at what has for years been one of his biggest bashes of the year - the Iranian-initiated Al-Quds Day, held on the last Friday of Ramadan to assert Islamic claims to Jerusalem - and the significance of his absence was not lost on Israeli officials.
Nasrallah's failure to participate was attributed in Jerusalem to two factors: the first that he was afraid to show himself in public because of Israeli threats to kill him, and the second that being linked too closely to Iran these days was not good domestic politics in Lebanon.
Regarding the first factor, Nasrallah - whose popularity and power stems to a large extent from a personal charisma on display at large rallies - has been underground since the war in Lebanon, with the exception of one big "victory" celebration last month.
This is not insignificant from Israel's point of view because of the feeling that public appearances are important for him to retain his and Hizbullah's popularity in Lebanon.
As far as domestic politics is considered, Israeli officials said that Al-Quds Day is largely a Shi'ite invention that Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini created in 1981 to underscore Islam's tie to Jerusalem.
With Nasrallah facing criticism in Lebanon for being more Iranian, as it were, than Lebanese, Israeli officials said he was not interested in joining in a "festival" that was largely "celebrated" in only one other capital: Teheran.
In the past, Hizbullah has marked Al-Quds Day by staging massive military parades in Lebanon's capital. But this year's event on Friday was a more subdued affair. Instead of thousands of guerrillas marching in uniform, the invitation-only event in a Beirut concert hall featured an orchestra, a choir and several anti-Israeli speeches.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah's No. 2 leader said his group would never stop its resistance against Israel, after last summer's war.
"Israeli was defeated and fled from Lebanon. The Israeli society was shaken and its vulnerability was exposed from within," deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem told hundreds at the concert.
Hizbullah had its own explanation for why this year's event was so subdued, saying that it didn't feel the need for another massive rally following the victory celebration in Beirut last month that was attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters.
"The [September] rally was an expression of the historic victory, and the masses of people who came from the various Lebanese regions reaffirmed their support of the victorious resistance. And because of this exceptional effort made by the masses ... we decided to replace the central [Al-Quds Day] rally with political festivities," Hizbullah said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
In Kfar Kila near the Israeli border, Lebanese soldiers blocked hundreds of protesters carrying yellow Hizbullah flags from marching close to the border fence. Parades wove through at least two of Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps.
While Beirut had no demonstrations Friday, millions staged pro-Jerusalem rallies in Iran and thousands in other Muslim countries. In Syria, for instance, some 3,000 people carrying Hizbullah, Palestinian and Syrian flags marched through the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.
Many chanted anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans, as some carried banners reading: "Our struggle with Israel is a struggle with existence and not of borders."
AP contributed to this report â€¢