Nasrallah claims he has remains of soldiers 'left behind'

In rare public appearance, Hizbullah leader says IDF left remains of "many" soldiers on Lebanese soil.

Nasrallah Ashoura 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Nasrallah Ashoura 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appeared in public for the first time since September 2006 on Saturday, warning Israel against attacking Lebanon and claiming that Hizbullah has a near-complete body of an IDF soldier killed during the Second Lebanon War. "Your army left behind the remains of soldiers in our villages and fields," he said, addressing the Israeli people, during a speech to the crowds in south Beirut. "We have in our possession arms and legs of Israeli soldiers and we also have a near-complete body. They [Israeli army] were so weak on the field that they left behind remains not of one, two or three, but a large number of [their] soldiers." The black-turbaned Nasrallah, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, was speaking after taking part in commemorations marking Ashoura - the most important holiday for Shi'ites - which honors the death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. The IDF released a statement on Saturday night in response to Nasrallah's speech which it called "evil cynicism" and rejected his claim that he was holding the body of a dead Israeli soldier left behind in Lebanon. "Nasrallah is trampling the basic ethical code of human respect," according to the statement, which also said that his claim of holding body parts belonging to IDF soldiers negated basic international treaties. "Hizbullah's actions are against basic codes held dearly by various religions, including Islam," the statement said. While the IDF has accounted for all of the bodies of the 119 soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, officials said it was possible that small body parts were not found during evacuations that took place from within Lebanon and while under enemy fire. In addition to the IDF's statement, defense officials said that Nasrallah's speech was a repeat of a speech he gave earlier this month and was an indication of the immense pressure he was under to complete a prisoner swap with Israel. The officials said that Nasrallah was trying to apply psychological pressure on the Israeli public instead of using the regular back-channel mediators for talks with Israel regarding such a deal. In an interview earlier this year, Nasrallah said his group was holding the remains of IDF troops killed in Lebanon, but he did not go into detail at the time. He claimed in the interview that Hizbullah offered during negotiations to return the remains, but the Israeli side was not interested. Israel denied the claims at the time. Before Saturday afternoon's speech, which was relayed on a giant screen to the crowds, Nasrallah walked amid dozens of black-clad security men, waving to the crowds. His appearance dispelled Israeli and Arab media reports late last year that Nasrallah had been demoted by Hizbullah's Iranian sponsors and that control of the group's military wing was given to his deputy. Hizbullah had denied the reports, which appeared in Ma'ariv and the Saudi-owned Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat. Regarding the possibility of a future prisoner swap deal with Israel, Nasrallah said: "The issue of the captives is still being negotiated over. There could be positive surprises in store but there could also be negative surprises. After the last deal, we are optimistic. Things worked out well. However, we were surprised by Israel's sluggishness in the negotiations." Nasrallah continued: "Even the positive signs that we received from Israel they retracted. I don't know why. At a certain point we felt that the Israelis were serious, but now we don't believe so. We don't get the impression that they want information, neither on the two soldiers [Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser] nor on other matters." Nasrallah went into hiding for fear of an Israeli assassination. The last time he appeared in public was in September 2006 at a "Victory Rally" marking the end of the Second Lebanon War. Since then, he has only addressed his supporters through video-links or on television. During the war, Israel threatened to kill Nasrallah as it did his predecessor in 1992. During his speech Saturday, Nasrallah warned Israel against attacking Lebanon again. "If Israel launched a new war in Lebanon, we promise them a war that will change the direction of the battle and the fate of the entire region, God willing," he said. Nasrallah also accused US President George W. Bush of using a recent Middle East tour to incite Arabs against Iran. He called on Arab governments to confront Bush's "satanic visions" for the Middle East, which he said serve only the interests of the US and Israel. "Bush wants to convince our rulers and people that Iran is the enemy, that Iran poses a danger and a threat, and that Israel is a brother, a beloved friend and neighbor to whom we must extend our hand in peace," he declared.