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Hezbollah Chief Says Arms Being Upgraded, Fighters Increased

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement has added fighters and is upgrading its weapons, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Shiite Muslim group, said after his first public appearance in three years.

Hezbollah won’t give up its arms even through dialogue, Nasrallah said in a televised speech in Beirut today that was viewed by thousands of followers marking the Ashura commemoration of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, in the seventh century.

The black-turbaned, bearded Nasrallah was earlier received with cheers when he briefly appeared surrounded by bodyguards at the event. It was his first public appearance since a celebration for the release of prisoners by Israel in 2008.

Hezbollah gained popularity in Lebanon by helping to force Israel’s army to end its occupation of the country’s south in 2000. The group, which also fought Israel in a month-long war in 2006, says it wants to maintain its arms to defend Lebanon from potential Israeli attacks. Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S.

The real domestic security threat is the proliferation of small arms in the hands of all parties in Lebanon, Nasrallah said. He warned that some groups, which he didn’t name, were trying to restart a civil war in Lebanon, which was largely destroyed during 15 years of internal strife that ended in 1990.

Lebanon has been in a political crisis since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which led to street protests that forced Syrian troops to end a 29-year military domination of the country. Tensions rose in Lebanon after protests began in mid-March against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah opposes civil war in Syria, where some parties are inciting unrest to replace the Assad regime, which backs Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli militant groups, with another regime that wouldn’t have the same policies, Nasrallah said.

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