Hezbollah chief vows to continue fighting in Syria

Iran-backed Hezbollah has reiterated its support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces

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Hezbollah fighters are going to stay in Syria “as long as they are needed” by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces battling rebels, head of the Shiite movement, Hassan Nasrallah, said during his second appearance in public marking a Shiite religious occasion.

“As long as the reasons (to fight in Syria) remain, our presence there will remain,” Reuters quoted Nasrallah as saying in a speech to tens of thousands of Lebanese Shiites marking the religious ceremony of Ashura in southern Beirut.

In a rare public appearance on Wednesday, Nasrallah said a failure to strike a deal with ally Iran over its nuclear program would spell “war in the region.”

“Regarding Iran’s nuclear program, they [West] will either reach an agreement or disagree and the situation heads to war,” the Associated Press quoted Nasrallah as telling hundreds of supporters in a rare public appearance in a giant hall south of Beirut.

Nasrallah normally appears via video link for fear of assassination by arch-enemy Israel. His group fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

“If war breaks out, everyone should be worried but others should be worried more than us,” he said, adding “if an understanding is reached between Iran and the West over the nuclear program, our side will be stronger locally, regionally and internationally.”

World powers failed to reach an agreement with Iran over the weekend to curb its controversial nuclear program in exchange for some relief from crippling sanctions despite high-profile, marathon talks in Geneva.

The West and Israel have long suspected Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian program, allegations fiercely denied by Tehran.

In his first public appearance since Aug. 2, the black-turbaned Shiite cleric also said Israel is happy to see Sunni and Shiite Muslims killing each other.

He also warned Arab countries against betting on the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, saying that they will be proven wrong.

Iran, along with Assad’s regime, is a close ally of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite movement with a powerful military wing.

(With Reuters and Associated Press)