BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of the militant Hezbollah group said Friday that this week's deadly cross-border attack on Israeli soldiers was a message that it will no longer tolerate any Israeli attacks against its members.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told thousands of supporters in south Beirut that Hezbollah does not fear war and is ready if Israel provokes further violence.
It was Nasrallah's first comments since six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general were killed on Jan. 18 in an Israeli airstrike in Syria. The group retaliated on Wednesday with a cross-border rocket attack that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven.
The Hezbollah threat comes as the group, which has an arsenal of tens of thousands of missiles and rockets, is currently preoccupied with the war in neighboring Syria — where it is aiding Syrian President Assad's forces.
"We don't fear war and we don't hesitate in facing it if it is imposed on us and we will be victorious, God willing," Nasrallah said, addressing the public rally through a video link from a secret location. Several Lebanese officials as well as Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Iran's influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, attended the rally.
Warning Israel against any further attacks, Nasrallah said, "You tried us once. Don't try us again."
Nasrallah said Hezbollah will no longer abide by any rules of engagement, stating that Hezbollah has the right to retaliate against any future Israeli attack at the time and place of its choosing.
"We, in the Islamic resistance, are not concerned about anything that is called rules of engagement," Nasrallah said in his 75-minute speech. "From now on, if any Hezbollah cadre or member is assassinated we will blame Israel and we will consider that it is our right to retaliate in any place, at any time and by any suitable method."
Israel and Hezbollah last came into direct conflict in 2006 when a monthlong war killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis and ravaged the Shiite-dominated region of southern Lebanon as well as the country's infrastructure.