BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, making a rare public appearance, said on Saturday his guerrilla group possessed body parts of Israeli soldiers left on southern Lebanon’s battlefields during the war in 2006.
Addressing hundreds of thousands of cheering Shi‘ite Muslim followers in southern Beirut during the annual Ashura religious rally, Nasrallah also said he would respond to Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty if they did not cease.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006, triggered after the guerrilla group captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid in July 2006.
“Oh Zionists your army is lying to you ... your army has left the body parts of your soldiers in our villages and fields,” the black-turbaned leader said in a live speech transmitted to the crowd on a huge screen.
“Our mujahideen used to fight these Zionists, killing them and collecting their body parts. I am not talking about regular body parts. I tell the Israelis, we have the heads of your soldiers, we have hands, we have legs.”
Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died during the 34-day war.
“There is even a near-complete body, a half or three-quarters of a body, from head, to chest to the torso,” said Nasrallah, who earlier walked among the Ashura procession. He last appeared in May at the opening of a book fair in Beirut.
Nasrallah’s unusually graphic comments appeared aimed at increasing pressure on the Israeli government to speed up U.N.-mediated negotiations for a prisoner swap deal in which the captured Israeli soldiers would be exchanged for Lebanese and other prisoners.
In October, Israel and Hezbollah exchanged the remains of an Israeli civilian for a captive Lebanese guerrilla and the bodies of two comrades in a U.N.-brokered deal.
Hezbollah, backed by Israel’s sworn enemies Syria and Iran, is one of several Arab militant groups which do not recognize Israel.
In two separate incidents this month, Israeli authorities detained two Lebanese shepherds on border villages for questioning before releasing them a few hours later. Israeli flights over Lebanon also continue on a near-daily basis.
“We feel that the attacks on civilians on the Lebanese borders are a humiliation for a nation and people. One cannot be silent on this issue and it must be confronted one of these days and it will be confronted, God willing, one of these days.”
Nasrallah also said he doubted Israel had the political and military leadership and qualified army to launch a war on Lebanon. But he warned that should the Jewish state do so, “we promise them with a war that will change the path of the battle and the fate of the whole region, God willing.”
Nasrallah spoke after his followers converged on Hezbollah’s southern Beirut bastion to mark the climax of Ashura, one of Shi‘ite Islam’s holiest events.
It comes as Lebanon experiences its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. The conflict pits the Hezbollah-led opposition against the anti-Syrian majority and has left the country without a president since November.
Earlier crowds of men, women and children dressed in black massed in Beirut’s southern suburbs, punching their fists in the air and beating their chests in unison as they chanted “We serve you Hussein”, as a sign of grief at the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.
Nasrallah also criticized U.S. President George W. Bush’s recent tour of his Middle Eastern allies, saying he used it to convince Arab leaders “that Iran is the enemy, the danger, the threat while Israel is the brother, the close friend”.
Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; editing by Keith Weir