The leader of Hizbullah said on Sunday that Israel's recent military exercises near the Lebanese border were intended to prepare for a new war on Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah added that Hizbullah had recently held military maneuvers in southern Lebanon in response to the Israeli drills and to send "a clear message" to the Jewish state that his fighters were ready to defend Lebanon if it was attacked again. "The (Israeli) enemy has been conducting military maneuvers for months. The latest maneuvers occurred a few weeks ago near the Lebanese border in which 50,000 Israeli officers and soldiers participated," Nasrallah told a Hizbullah rally in south Beirut. "These maneuvers are to prepare for an attack on Lebanon," he said. The pro-Hizbullah newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that thousands of unarmed Hizbullah fighters took part in the organization's own maneuvers, which was later confirmed by a senior Hizbullah official who would not give further details. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora downplayed the event as just a simulation and UN peacekeeping force patrolling a zone along the border in southern Lebanon said no maneuvers were observed in their area of operations. The newspaper said Nasrallah personally supervised the maneuvers, which it said were carried out in the last three days without weapons or uniforms, billing it as the biggest ever staged on Israel's border by the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group. "I tell the (Israeli) enemy that these maneuvers were real, serious and big. I am not going to give details. There is a great deal of readiness (by Hizbullah) which the enemy must understand," Nasrallah said in his speech Sunday. "These maneuvers were intended to send out a clear message to the world which is besieging us and to this enemy that that the resistance in Lebanon possesses determination, men and the necessary and sufficient weapons to defend Lebanon," the black-turbaned cleric said, drawing cheers from the crowd. Without elaborating, he added, "The resistance is ready to make a victory for Lebanon that will change the region's face." The rally, attended by several thousand Hizbullah supporters waving the group's yellow banners and the Lebanese flag, was organized by the group to mark Lebanon's Martyr's Day. Nasrallah, whose whereabouts are unknown because of fear that Israel will attempt to kill him as they did his predecessor in 1992, did not personally attend the rally. The speech was broadcast live by Hizbullah's Al-Manar television on a giant screen in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Hizbullah stronghold devastated by Israeli airstrikes during last year's war with Hizbullah guerrillas. Celebratory fireworks and gunfire erupted at the start and end of his 90-minute speech. Nasrallah, whose group is leading the opposition against Saniora's Western-backed government, criticized the ruling coalition for not protesting the Israeli maneuvers at the UN and for failing to stop the almost daily Israeli reconnaissance flights over Lebanon. The Hizbullah leader also warned the ant-Syrian majority in Parliament against electing a new president without the support of the opposition. "The opposition will not recognize such a president," said Nasrallah. "It will consider him a usurper of power." Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ends on Nov. 24, and there is widespread fear that the failure to agree on his successor could lead to a power vacuum or possibly the creation of two rival governments.