Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Friday described the fight for the Syrian province of Aleppo as the “greatest battle” to date in the Syrian war, noting that the outcome would have an impact on “Damascus, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.”
“It is out duty to increase our presence in Aleppo… because the real, strategic and greatest battle is in Aleppo and the surrounding area,” said Nasrallah in a televised speech marking 40 days since the death in Syria of Hizbullah’s top military commander Mustafa Badreddine.
Badreddine was killed near Damascus on May 12 by “artillery shelling carried out by takfiri groups,” according to a Hizbullah statement.
Aleppo city — once Syria’s economic hub – has in recent weeks seen an uptick in violence between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east. Fierce clashes have also been raging in the northern and southern countrysides of Aleppo province.
“We are facing a new wave, or a new phase, of military operations in Syria that will be fought in the north, specifically in the area of Aleppo,” Nasrallah said.
“After they failed to reach Damascus from Lebanon, Jordan and the eastern front, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have dispatched thousands of militants in a bid to launch an offensive from the northern front,” he declared.
“The U.S.-Saudi-takfiri scheme is seeking to make an achievement in Syria through Aleppo’s front,” Nasrallah added.
He announced that 26 Hizbullah fighters had been killed in the offensive this month, in a rare admission of casualties for the group.
Nasrallah also noted that rebel and jihadist groups fighting his party and the Syrian army have lost “617 militants, including dozens of field commanders,” since the beginning of the fighting in Aleppo on June 1.
“More than 800 militants were wounded while over 80 armored personnel carriers, tanks and vehicles were destroyed,” he added.
“Fighting in defense of Aleppo is in defense of the rest of Syria, of Damascus. It’s in defense of Lebanon and Iraq and Jordan,” Nasrallah said via videolink.
“This is why it is our duty to be in Aleppo — and we were, and we will stay in Aleppo,” he added.
“The same as we counted on you in the July War (against Israel), we are counting on you in the Aleppo battle,” Nasrallah went on to say, addressing Hizbullah’s fighters.
Hizbullah’s intervention in the Syrian conflict alongside regime forces has helped Damascus achieve several military victories and allowed the party to clear most of the Lebanese-Syrian border region from rebels and jihadists.
Since 2013, the Lebanese, Iran-backed party has sent thousands of combatants — between 5,000 and 6,000, according to the expert on Hizbullah Waddah Sharara — to help the regime fight both rebels and jihadists.
They send 2,000 fighters at a time in rotation, Sharara says. Experts say Hizbullah has lost 1,000 to 2,000 fighters in the conflict, including senior commanders.
Turning to the row over the implementation in Lebanon of the anti-Hizbullah U.S. banking sanctions, Nasrallah said his party has not been affected financially by such measures but stressed that it “will not tolerate the hostile behavior by some banks” against “Hizbullah’s environment” and some charitable associations.
“We categorically reject the U.S. sanctions law and claims that Hizbullah is collapsing financially are childish dreams… I have already said that even the strictest implementation of the U.S. law will not affect Hizbullah as an organizational and jihadi structure,” Hizbullah’s chief added.
“We do not have business projects or investment institutions that benefit from banks. We openly say that Hizbullah’s budget and funds come directly from the Islamic Republic of Iran and as long as Iran has money we will have money,” he declared.
“There are banks in Lebanon that went too far and implemented measures that were not even requested by the Americans themselves. They removed the accounts of charitable associations whose names were not mentioned in the U.S. blacklist. Is this a legal and humanitarian behavior or is it an attack on people and on the charitable associations?” added Nasrallah.
He however noted that his party is “open to dialogue and solutions” with the banking sector while emphasizing that it “will not tolerate any hostile behavior towards our people.”
Nasrallah’s remarks come around two weeks after a bomb blast targeted the Beirut headquarters of BLOM Bank, the second largest bank in the country.
Several parties were quick to point the finger at Hizbullah over the bombing due to the fact that the attack coincided with the row with the banking sector.
BLOM bank had been criticized by some pro-Hizbullah politicians for taking a hard-line position after Lebanese banks began abiding by the U.S. law, which sanctions doing business with the Iran-backed Lebanese group. Authorities say dozens of bank accounts related to Hizbullah’s organizations have been closed in recent weeks.
Hizbullah has fiercely criticized the law and accused Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh of “yielding” to Washington’s demands.
The crisis between Hizbullah and Salameh has however eased in recent days, according to media reports, after the governor ordered the reopening of several closed bank accounts