Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Guerrilla leader taunts Israel, claims victory


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah taunted Israeli soldiers as "cowards" and claimed a "strategic and historic victory" as a truce took hold on Monday night after 32 days of intense bombing that has brought Lebanon to its knees.

"We are today before a strategic, historic victory, without exaggeration," the black-turbaned cleric said in a taped speech broadcast on Manar television, the Hezbollah propaganda station that Israeli bombers failed to shut down despite repeated attempts.

The Israeli destruction demonstrated its "failure and impotency" and his guerrillas would help rebuild houses destroyed in the bombardment, he said.

The triumphant tone appeared to signal that the leader would accept the tentative peace settlement with Israel despite apparent misgivings in recent days.

On Sunday, Hezbollah officials boycotted a meeting of the Lebanese Cabinet that was due to implement plans for transferring control of pockets of southern Lebanon from Israel to a force of 15,000 Lebanese and 15,000 international soldiers due to deploy soon. And on Monday night Nasrallah said he believed the Lebanese-Western force would be "incapable of protecting Lebanon."

Calls for a debate on disarming Hezbollah were "inappropriate," he said. "This is the wrong time on the psychological and moral level particularly before a [full] ceasefire."

Hezbollah fighters echoed their leader's victorious mood despite the massive destruction and heavy casualties.

"Of course this is a victory, praise be to God. What is important is our dignity," said one, who only gave his name as Hajj. "Israel used everything it had on us, and we threw it all back."

Four other fighters travelling with him in a shell-blasted jeep refused to speak. Asked if he would fire rockets into Israel again, Hajj answered: "If we received the order, we will do it."

Two hours after the ceasefire deadline, Hezbollah fighters started to emerge into the square in Khiam, a town near the disputed Shebaa Farms area. Standing at the corner of a street they hugged and kissed each other as all around them were scenes of destruction and mayhem.

"They bombed everywhere for days," said one man, his T-shirt and hair covered in dust.

Next to him lay a car smashed and twisted, everywhere around him buildings were destroyed. There were piles of rubble in the streets and cables hanging from electricity poles on the ground.

Then the injured started to emerge. Three fighters carried an old woman on a stretcher to a waiting Red Cross car. Another stretcher took an injured fighter, bandages covering part of his face and chest, while another limped along supported by a colleague.

"The fighters are being taken to the hospital, tell the Red Cross not to do anything with them, just first aid, and our guys will pick them up later," said a man on the phone as the ambulances left.

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