Hezbollah chief makes rare TV appearance

Hassan Nasrallah called for a large turnout on Tuesday, which sees the peak of the Shiite Ashura commemorations

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Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance on Monday in the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs, addressing thousands of his supporters ahead of a Shiite day of mourning.

As he appeared on stage wearing a black robe and turban, the crowd seen in a live broadcast on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television began cheering wildly, as they apparently had not expected to see him.

“Tomorrow we will prove that we are above any threat, any danger, any challenge,” Nasrallah said.

Supporters chanted “We are at your command, O Hussein,” a traditional Shiite rallying cry.

Hussein was killed at the hands of soldiers of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD, an event that lies at the heart of Islam’s sectarian divide into Shiite and Sunni sects.

The Hezbollah leader called for a large turnout on Tuesday, which sees the peak of Ashura, a festival that marks the killing of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures of Shiite Islam and grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

The head of the Shiite militant group, whose forces are fighting in Syria alongside the troops of President Bashar al-Assad, usually addresses supporters via video link for fear of assassination by arch-foe Israel.

Nasrallah had not been seen in public since July, when he attended a rally to show support for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

But Monday’s appearance in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, was his sixth since his group fought Israel in a devastating and deadly war in 2006.

For the commemoration, Hezbollah is planning to hold a massive rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Tuesday, and Nasrallah is due to address the crowds again.

Lebanese police will close off the Shiite-majority southern suburbs of Beirut from midnight until the end of the Ashura.

Sectarian tensions have paralysed Lebanese politics. The country has been without a president since May, with politicians unable to agree on a new one that would satisfy both sides.

Sunni leaders accuse Hezbollah of dragging the country into Syria’s war and marginalising Sunnis at home. Their Shi’ite counterparts accuse them of turning a blind eye to Sunni militants in Lebanon and of stirring up sectarian hatred.

[With AFP and Reuters]

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