Go green, Hezbollah guerrilla chief tells Lebanese

BEIRUT Mon Oct 11, 2010 10:49am EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Plant trees, protect forests, preserve Lebanon's beauty. A message from the environment minister? Greenpeace campaigner? Eco-tourism entrepreneur?

No, this time it was Hezbollah guerrilla chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, taking time out from diatribes against Israel and its U.S. ally to deliver a distinctly green-tinged appeal.

Afforestation is "part of Lebanese national security," the Shi'ite leader intoned, statesmanlike, Saturday, a day after he emerged from hiding to dig in what he said was the millionth sapling planted by Hezbollah's reconstruction arm, Jihad al-Bina.

Nasrallah's tree-planting excursion was a rare step into the sunshine for a man who has lived under cover to avoid Israeli assassination since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

"The climate threat today," the bespectacled cleric told his listeners, "is among the biggest threats faced by mankind in (terms of) its peace, security, stability and existence."

Civic sense is not a strong point in Lebanon and it is not clear whether even Nasrallah can induce greener behavior on his compatriots, many of whom blithely toss litter from their cars.

But it was a striking theme for the leader of a militant Islamist armed movement, backed by Syria and Iran, and viewed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

He devoted a big chunk of his speech to the environment, although media coverage largely ignored it, focusing on his remarks welcoming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon this week and denouncing the special tribunal set up to try the assassins of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri.

Yet Nasrallah delved into Islamic history, citing prophets and traditions to buttress his plea for Lebanese to plant trees outside their homes and conserve what natural beauty remains in a land blighted by rampant building and environmental neglect.

"We Lebanese always extol the green Lebanon. Of course this will soon be a thing of the past," he said, adding that greenery was as vital to Lebanon as freedom of speech and religion.

Planting trees was also a way of resisting Israel, the Hezbollah leader said, noting that they could give cover to guerrillas and that Israeli forces had accordingly destroyed much vegetation during their 1978-2000 occupation of the south.

Hezbollah is now Lebanon's strongest military force, but alongside its rocket arsenal it has long developed a network of schools, clinics and other services for Shi'ites, meeting social needs that outrun the capacities of a dysfunctional state.

Nasrallah's green credo is further evidence of how seriously Hezbollah yearns to be taken as a Lebanese political movement with a platform broader than those of many of its rivals.

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