Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah debunked rumors regarding his health as well as reports of his deputy Naim Qassem’s assassination in a televized speech Wednesday evening, while renewing calls to ward off “Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon” and “plans to partition Syria.”
Reports of Nasrallah’s ill-health circulated in the Israeli media over the last two days, and were followed by rumors Wednesday of Qassem’s killing by members of the Syrian armed opposition.
“Talk of Sheikh Naim Qassem’s death are complete lies and baseless,” said Nasrallah.
“If new rumors go around, you’ll see me again,” a smiling Nasrallah said at the close of his speech, in an apparent reference to his alleged sickness. The reports had claimed that the Hezbollah chief was seeking treatment for cancer in Iran.
The Secretary General also issued a stern warning to detractors, alluding among others to the Salafi Saida-based leader Sheikh Ahmad el-Assir, who staged an armed demonstration last week demanding the removal of Hezbollah’s presence in the city.
“We are very, very guarded but do not make wrong calculations about us … do not push us too far,” Nasrallah had said of the matter.
The Hezbollah Secretary General chalked the rumors up to “a dangerous new context”, particularly allegations of Hezbollah’s occupation of Syrian Sunni border villages near Hermel, which he dismissed as “baseless.” The reports cited US ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, who in turn neither confirmed nor denied them.
Nasrallah also addressed the Orthodox Gathering draft law which received a milestone endorsement from parliament’s electoral committee last week, sparking outrage from civil society activists and organizations.
Hezbollah had voted for the law – which dictates that people may only vote for representatives of their own sect. However, Nasrallah said he espouses an alternative to the controversial draft law.
“We support a law that grants proportional representation to the Lebanese and that turns Lebanon into one district,” said Nasrallah, suggesting that the vote was a political maneuver to move the electoral law away from the current one, known as the 1960 law, in this direction.
The 1960 law is an electoral law based on small electoral districts that is notorious for facilitating gerrymandering. It was last used to elect the current parliament in the summer of 2009.
“We’re in front of a law that is humanitarian, patriotic, just, fair, protects national unity and provides proper representation. So why not go ahead with it?” he said of the new proposal, which has long been a demand of disenfranchised political forces in Lebanon.
“We call for a real study of this proposal,” he added.
Nasrallah also strongly refuted reports of Hezbollah fighters participating in the Syrian military crackdown on rebels.
He warned in the same breath of foreign-backed plans to partition war-torn Syria, and said people should stand staunchly against it.