BEIRUT, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, making a rare public appearance, said on Saturday his guerrilla group had 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.”
An Israeli army statement called Nasrallah’s comments a “cruel and cynical move by an organization that flagrantly tramples the most fundamental, ethical codes, shows no respect for human rights or the international conventions that govern these matters.”
“His speech demonstrates that the Hezbollah terrorist organization violates the values that are sacred to all religions, including Islam. We call upon all those with the most basic common sense to view him as cowardly and to condemn him.”
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 Israel to speed up U.N.-mediated negotiations for a prisoner swap, in which the captured Israeli soldiers would be exchanged for Lebanese and other prisoners.
NASRALLAH WARNS AGAINST WAR
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 recognise Israel.
The group says that Israel regularly violates Lebanon’s sovereignty. 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.
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.