Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hezbollah rearmed, Nasrallah tells rally

BEIRUT -- In the mix of theater and pulpit that makes for a Hezbollah rally, the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, appeared yesterday before hundreds of thousands of supporters for the first time since its war with Israel ended last month

His message was defiant, with the bravado the crowd expected: Hezbollah is stronger than before the war, it has more than 20,000 rockets, and its fighters have replenished their arms.

Kamal Ribai, a soft-spoken businessman in the crowd with his son and two daughters, thrust his fist into the air. ``At your command, Nasrallah!" he shouted, as six balloons floated carrying Lebanese and Hezbollah flags.

``This is all of Lebanon you see around you," Ribai said confidently, waving his hand. ``It's all of Lebanon. Look at it."

``The real majority," he said, referring to Hezbollah and its allies. ``As long as they stay united, nothing will go wrong."

Hezbollah's call for the rally this week unleashed a wave of anxiety and anticipation in Beirut. Some saw Nasrallah's appearance as a way to reinforce the notion of victory to his supporters, who bore the brunt of a 33-day conflict. Others saw it, more darkly, as a first step toward delivering the state to Hezbollah.

Ribai talked of Nasrallah with a certain awe. Nasrallah's son, Ribai pointed out, had been killed fighting Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon in 1997.

``Somebody who sacrificed his own son's life? He did everything he could for this country. He asks you to come celebrate this victory. Why would I think twice about it?" he said.

Some people flashed V-for-victory signs. Others joined chants. ``O God, O God, protect Nasrallah!"

``No army in the world will be able to make us drop the weapons from our hands!" Nasrallah shouted.

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