The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said on Friday that the military offensive against the city of Aleppo was the “greatest battle” in Syria, and he pledged to dispatch more fighters to support government forces.
In remarks broadcast over the Shia group’s al-Manar television, Hassan Nasrallah said his party would “increase our presence in Aleppo… because the real, strategic, greatest battle is in Aleppo and the surrounding area”.
Nasrallah said: “We are facing a new wave, or a new phase, of military operations in Syria that will be fought in the north, specifically in the area of Aleppo.”
He also announced that 26 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the offensive this month, in a rare admission of casualties for the group.
“Fighting in defence of Aleppo is in defence of the rest of Syria, of Damascus. It’s in defence of Lebanon and Iraq and Jordan,” Nasrallah said via videolink.
“This is why it is our duty to be in Aleppo, and we were, and we will stay in Aleppo.”
Nasrallah spoke at a commemoration event for Mustafa Badreddine, a Hezbollah commander killed in an explosion on 12 May near Damascus international airport.
Hezbollah has intervened in Syria’s complex war on behalf of the government of President Bashar al-Assad and has sent thousands of fighters to Damascus, Aleppo and Homs provinces, among others.
Aleppo city – once Syria’s economic hub – in particular has experienced a surge in violence over the past two months amid clashes between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east.
Government forces, backed by Hezbollah and by Russian warplanes, are seeking to close off the last rebel route out of the city.
Addressing the row over the implementation in Lebanon of the US anti-Hezbollah banking sanctions, Nasrallah said his party has not been affected financially by such measures but stressed that it “will not tolerate the hostile behavior by some banks” against “Hezbollah’s environment” and some charitable associations.
“We categorically reject the U.S. sanctions law and claims that Hezbollah is collapsing financially are childish dreams… I have already said that even the strictest implementation of the U.S. law will not affect Hezbollah as an organizational and jihadi structure,”Hezbollah’s chief added.
“We do not have business projects or investment institutions that benefit from banks. We openly say that Hezbollah’s budget and funds come directly from the Islamic Republic of Iran and as long as Iran has money we will have money,” he declared.
“There are banks in Lebanon that went too far and implemented measures that were not even requested by the Americans themselves. They removed the accounts of charitable associations whose names were not mentioned in the U.S. blacklist. Is this a legal and humanitarian behavior or is it an attack on people and on the charitable associations?” added Nasrallah.
He however noted that his party is “open to dialogue and solutions” with the banking sector while emphasizing that it “will not tolerate any hostile behavior towards our people.”
Nasrallah’s remarks come around two weeks after a bomb blast targeted the Beirut headquarters of BLOM Bank, the second largest bank in the country.
Several parties were quick to point the finger at Hezbollah over the bombing due to the fact that the attack coincided with the row with the banking sector.
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