Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, made a rare public appearance on Tuesday, warning those who were "banking on change" that the militant Shiite Muslim group is continuing to build its military arsenal, the Associated Press reported.
His speech was viewed widely as a way to portray confidence in Hezbollah during a time of upheaval in the region. Israeli officials and analysts did not read much significance into Nasrallah’s brief public appearance, The New York Times reported.
Hezbollah fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, and since then Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public due to fears that he will be assasinated. Usually, he speaks to his supporters using a video-link.
Nasrallah spoke at a rally to commemorate the Shiite holiday of Ashura.
Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite calendar, commemorates the 7th century killing of the prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
Nasrallah told supporters that Hezbollah was stronger than ever, and would never give up its arms, BBC News reported.
Nasrullah "struck a defiant note in his speech," Reuters reported. He gave no sign that his allies' troubles were affecting Hezbollah, which has both an armed wing and a political movement.
According to the Associated Press:
Nasrallah's appearance is meant to portray confidence at a time of upheaval in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, which along with Iran is Hezbollah's backer.
Syrians and Arabs around the region have in recent years elevated Nasrallah to the status of a nationalist hero after his guerrillas' 2006 war with Israel.
Since the Syrian uprising, however, Syrians have unleashed their anger at Hezbollah over its blunt support for the regime of President Bashar Assad. Some protesters in Syria have set fire to the yellow flag of Hezbollah and pictures of Nasrallah.
He spoke only briefly, telling a large crowd, "I wanted to be with you for just a few minutes, although I love to be with you always."
According to The New York Times, Nasrallah said:
We will never let go of our arms. Our numbers are increasing day after day, and we are getting better and our training is becoming better and we are becoming more confident in our future and more armed. And it someone is betting that our weapons are rusting, we tell them that every weapon that rusts is replaced.
Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. Its weapons, which have been acquired with help from Syria and Iran, are controversial in Lebanon as they give the group more military clout than the national army, the LA Times reported.
During his speech, Nasrallah reiterated his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and accused the United States of seeking to destroy Syria to make up for its defeat in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.
“It went largely unnoticed,” said Yigal Palmor, the spokesman of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. His words reflected that Israel believes that Hezbollah has concerns regarding the upheaval in Syria and internal problems in Lebanon, "and is not likely to initiate any imminent confrontation with Israel," reported The Times.