Hezbollah leader: Iran could retaliate for Israeli strikes

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group warned Friday that if Israel continues to target Iran’s presence in the region, Tehran could eventually retaliate by striking deep inside Israel.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s warning came in a speech during a ceremony in Beirut marking “Quds Day,” or Jerusalem Day, a traditional show of support for the Palestinians. Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters and officials from allied Palestinian groups attended.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes over the years on targets in Syria — where Iran, like Hezbollah, supports President Bashar Assad’s forces — but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It has acknowledged targeting bases of Iran-allied militias, such as Hezbollah, in Syria. Israel says its attacks are against Iranian entrenchment in neighboring Syria.

Hezbollah, one of Iran’s main arms in the region, was formed in the early 1980s during Lebanon’s civil war by Iranian officers and Tehran has been arming and funding the group since.

Nasrallah’s comments came two days after an Israeli missile strike in Syria killed four Syrian soldiers and wounded others, according to Syrian state media. A Syrian opposition war monitor gave a higher death toll for the early Wednesday strike that hit suburbs of the capital, Damascus, saying it killed six Syrian soldiers and four Iran-backed fighters.

Last month, an Israeli missile attack on Damascus killed two colonels with Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Iran retaliated shortly after by firing surface-to-surface missiles on what it described as an Israeli spy center in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

“The Islamic Republic’s military stance is developing to a level that if the Israel’s aggression continues on Iranian presence in the region it might strike at Israel directly,” Nasrallah said.

The ceremony, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was the first large gathering by Hezbollah since the coronavirus pandemic started.

Nasrallah said Iranian officials now believe that “the time when we bring our martyrs” and hold funerals for them has ended.

“We will avenge our martyrs. This is an important development,” Nasrallah said.

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