Lebanon’s Hezbollah Marks Jerusalem Day
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ In past years, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah marked Jerusalem Day by staging massive military parades in Lebanon’s capital to demonstrate the importance of the holy city to Muslims.
But this year’s event on Friday was a more subdued affair. Instead of thousands of guerrillas marching in uniform, the invitation-only event in a concert hall featured an orchestra, a choir and several anti-Israel speeches.
Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the keynote speaker at last year’s parade, was noticeably absent Friday. His deputy filled in, telling the hundreds of supporters in the hall that Hezbollah would not give up its fight against Israel.
Hezbollah fought Israel for 34 days over the summer in a conflict that left about 1,000 people dead.
Hezbollah said it did not feel the need to organize a mass rally this year for Jerusalem Day after hundreds of thousands of supporters took to the streets on Sept. 22 for a ``victory″ rally in bombed-out southern Beirut. Nasrallah spoke there, his only public appearance since the fighting with Israel began.
Hezbollah claims it defeated Israel in the conflict that ended Aug. 14 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
``The (September) rally was an expression of the historic victory, and the masses of people who came from the various Lebanese regions reaffirmed their support of the victorious resistance. And because of this exceptional effort made by the masses ... we decided to replace the central (Jerusalem Day) rally with political festivities,″ Hezbollah said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
Jerusalem Day began in 1981 when the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared the last Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan a day to demonstrate the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims. Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam after the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.
While Beirut had no demonstrations Friday, millions staged pro-Jerusalem rallies in Iran and thousands in other Muslim countries.
Elsewhere in Lebanon, hundreds of people carried yellow Hezbollah flags through the streets of the southern town of Kfar Kila. But Lebanese troops stopped the demonstrators from getting too close to the Israeli border.
Protesters also demonstrated in at least two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, including the largest, Ein el-Hilweh, where many marchers wore military fatigues and masks.
In neighboring Syria, some 3,000 people carrying Hezbollah, Palestinian and Syrian flags marched through the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus. Many chanted anti-American and anti-Israel slogans. Some carried banners reading: ``Our struggle with Israel is a struggle with existence and not of borders.″