The leader of Hizballah, the Lebanese Islamic militant group, vowed Thursday to keep his fighters in Syria as long as it takes to support President Bashar Assad.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah’s secretary general, spoke to tens of thousands of supporters who marched in Beirut to celebrate Ashura, one of the holiest days for Shi’a Muslims. “As long as there are reasons for us to stay in Syria, we will stay there,” Nasrallah told the crowd, according to the Associated Press. His followers responded, “At your service, Nasrallah.”
The speech was Nasrallah’s third public appearance this year; he has lived in hiding and has rarely been seen publicly since Hizballah fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006.
Earlier this year, battle-hardened fighters from Hizballah openly joined the Syrian civil war to bolster Assad. A member of the Alawite sect, a Shi’a offshoot, Assad has been fighting against mostly Sunni rebel groups since the conflict began in 2011, and the influx of Hizballah fighters helped lead to recent government victories.
The civil war in Syria has sharply divided the Lebanese, and rival politicians have said that Hizballah cannot join a new government until the organization withdraws from Syria.