The outcome of last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah has left the American vision of a "new Middle East" in shambles, Hizbullah's leader told a south Lebanon rally late Saturday. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said the United States and Israel had failed to achieve their declared goal of crushing Hizbullah because of the group's steadfastness during the 34-day war. There is no new Middle East after the August 14 cease-fire that ended the war, Nasrallah told a mass rally in the southern town of Bint Jbeil. "It's gone with the wind."
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He also dismissed unspecified pressures to release IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were captured by Hizbullah in a cross border raid that triggered last year's war. Without explicitly confirming that the detained soldiers were still alive, Nasrallah hinted they would only be freed in a swap with Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.
Speaking in a televised speech aired by the group's Al-Manar television, he called on Lebanese political parties to seek unity.
Nasrallah did not personally attend the rally, but his speech was relayed to the crowd in Bint Jbeil through a giant screen set up on the town's main square. Located near Lebanon's southern border with Israel, Bint Jbeil was among the towns worst hit during last year's conflict.
The Hizbullah chief's repeated references to "a new Middle East" was an allusion to comments by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called during last year's war for such a concept, describing it as a new era of democracy and peace for the region. Hizbullah and other US detractors say the US vision aimed at reinforcing Israel.
"The objectives of the July 2006 war have all collapsed, in only 33 days," Nasrallah said. "Magic has turned against the magician," he said.
Saturday's rally was organized by Hizbullah to mark the first anniversary of the war with Israel. Hizbullah had claimed victory against Israel in the fighting that ended with a UN-brokered cease-fire, calling it "a divine victory."