BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Hezbollah leader said Thursday his guerrilla organization — which fought Israeli forces to a standoff in southern Lebanon — might join Iraqis if they decide to launch an insurgency against U.S. forces.
“It is a matter first for the Iraqi people to decide,” Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
“All Arabs, Muslims and honorable people in the world should support a people that decides to resist the occupation. Hezbollah is part of the Arabs and Muslims,” he said.
“Our position in principle is to support any oppressed people that is subjected to tyranny and occupation,” Nasrallah said, adding the caveat that Hezbollah should not be expected to take action for which it was not armed or prepared.
Until recently, the Shiite Muslim militant Hezbollah said it would stay out of the conflict in Iraq, where the Shiite majority that was repressed under Saddam Hussein has been increasing assertive and — in some cases — opposed to the U.S. military presence in their country.
Hezbollah is seen as a legitimate resistance movement in Lebanon, where it fought Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon for 18 years until the Israelis withdrew in May 2000.
The group has nine elected members in Lebanon’s parliament and runs social services, including schools and clinics, in Shiite areas of Lebanon.
The U.S. State Department regards the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Israel accuses the group of possessing thousands of rockets, including weapons that could strike deep into Israel.
Nasrallah also said his guerrillas would not disarm as the United States has demanded.
“My information is that what was demanded is for the resistance to end and be disarmed,” he said expectations voiced by Secretary of State Colin Powell during a visit to Syria and Lebanon last week.
“This matter is out of the question,” Nasrallah said on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.
“Are we supposed to confront the Israeli aggression by speeches?” he said in the lengthy interview which included telephone calls from viewers. “People without weapons are helpless … All they can do is stage a demonstration.”
In Powell’s visit to Lebanon and Syria, he “emphasized strongly” U.S. concern about the “continuing terrorist activities” of Hezbollah. Powell said calm must be maintained along the Lebanese-Israeli border, the Lebanese army should be deployed to the border and Hezbollah should leave.