Hezbollah Says Has 100,000 Troops, Won’t Be Drawn Into Civil War
(Bloomberg) -- Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah said the Iran-backed group won’t be dragged into a new civil war in Lebanon after sectarian violence flared in Beirut, and claimed to have 100,000 trained fighters ready to fend off foreign attacks.
In a televised speech late Monday, Nasrallah warned a rival Christian group “not to miscalculate” and start a fight, accusing it of being behind a “planned” deadly attack on Hezbollah supporters during a protest last week.
“In the military structure of Hezbollah, aside from the weapons and the capabilities, taking into account only the Lebanese men who are trained, organized, armed and experienced, (they) number 100,000,” Nasrallah said. “Those are meant to defend our country in the face of our enemies.”
He said Hezbollah buried its supporters killed in Beirut and refrained from retaliating to “prevent a civil war.”
Joseph Daher, author of “Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God,” gave a lower figure for the probable size of the group’s army.
While Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s war saw its ranks swell, its total number of troops is probably now “around 45,000 to 50,000, including at least 20,000 full-time,” Daher said. Adding the “security apparatus” that protects members in Lebanon could take the number of armed personnel to a maximum 60,000, he said.
Last week’s armed clashes erupted as Hezbollah supporters demanded the removal of a judge investigating last year’s Beirut port blast. The city’s worst violence in years killed seven people and wounded dozens of others.
Hezbollah claims its protesters came under sniper fire, prompting them to retaliate and accused a right-wing Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, of being behind the attack. It denies the charges and says Hezbollah incited residents by shouting pro-Shiite slogans.
The conflict between the longtime rivals highlights the fragility of Lebanon’s security and political system. Sessions of the newly-formed cabinet were suspended until the controversy regarding the judge is resolved.
Dozens of Hezbollah supporters and their allies had turned out Thursday seeking the removal of the judge, Tareq Bitar, contending he is biased and politicized.
Four former cabinet ministers implicated in the blast have also asked for Bitar’s removal, accusing him of targeting them personally. They are charged with negligence and probable intent over the August 2020 blast, which killed at least 220 people and wounded thousands as a massive dump of ammonium nitrate stored at the port exploded and ripped through swaths of central Beirut. Bitar issued an arrest warrant against one of the ministers, who is also an ally of Hezbollah.
They were allegedly notified of the arrival of the vast cargo of ammonium nitrate in 2014 but failed to take steps to reduce the safety risk.
Families of the victims of the Beirut blast have lobbied in favor of Bitar, fearing politicians are trying to influence the investigation to avoid justice. Bitar was named in February to lead the probe after his predecessor was removed following similar accusations from politicians implicated.
During his speech late Monday, Nasrallah reiterated that his group was not involved in the port explosion and that the ammonium nitrate stored there didn’t belong to them.
“But that doesn’t mean we won’t be against the politicization of the investigation,” he said.
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