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UNDERSTANDING THE PRESENT CRISIS
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Press Conference with Hasan Nasrallah
Al-Manar, 12 July 2006 (published by MideastWire)

On July 12, Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah held a press conference carried by Lebanese Hezbollah TV Al Manar:

"[Nasrallah] In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate. All praise and thanks to Allah, the Lord and sustainer of all the worlds. God's peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad and the chaste members of his household and his pious companions. God's peace and blessing be upon you. Praise and thanks to God first and foremost for granting us this victory, jihad, and might, and for the results. First of all, I have to address the heroic mujahidin, who fulfilled the promise today. This is why their qualitative operation is called "Operation true promise." I thank them and kiss their foreheads and hands. With the blessing of these lofty foreheads and hands, the foreheads of us all will remain high and no shackle will remain in the hands of people in the occupation prisons. Today is the day of loyalty to Samir al-Qintar, Yahya Skaf, Nasim Nisr, and all brothers, detainees, and prisoners in the occupation jails.

"Also I have to express my thanks and appreciation to all the Lebanese, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, who expressed their joy and support – be they leaders, authorities, parties, forces, personalities, men of religion, or ordinary good people who went down to the streets to express their joy, each in his own way. Thanks and appreciation to them all, particularly our people in southern Lebanon and the frontline villages. They are and will continue to be steadfast, patient, confident, and strong, God willing, contrary to what is rumoured by some news media about a large exodus or problems there. This is not true and I will talk about this in a while.

"Let us begin with the operation. Of course I will not talk about the field details as these will be discussed in the resistance statements. A number of statements have thus far been issued. The resistance announced the capture of two Israeli soldiers. As usual, we give details at the right time. Details on when, how, and where will not be discussed now. The Israelis also admitted that two of their soldiers were captured. It seems that in the first confrontation a number of the occupation soldiers were killed. They were three. Talk now is about seven dead because after the operation there was an advance some news media said the Israeli forces advanced into the Lebanese territories. The one who hears the news media would think they reached Beirut without him knowing about it. This is not true. There was no advance except at one point. An Israeli tank advanced from the Al-Rahib position west of Ayta al-Sha'b and it was destroyed and its crewmen were killed or wounded.

"A few hours ago, the Israeli enemy, through various channels, asked for a cease-fire in that area to evacuate its dead and wounded. The area is in the middle. We said that what is required is a comprehensive cease-fire and not a cease-fire in a certain area. How can I cease fire in an area if you are pounding bridges and rear areas? This is illogical. Therefore, talk is about four killed, in addition to the crew of the tank which was destroyed in the first Israeli advance into the Lebanese territories. There is still no Israeli incursion into Lebanese Territories. This is a brief description of the field situation. Of course the two Israeli captives are now in a safe and very remote place. Striking at a bridge here and another there. The operation took place at 0905. The Israelis woke up to what happened at 1030 or 1100 and began to ask what was going on. Therefore, the one who captured the prisoners at 0905 had time to take them wherever he wanted. This is a brief account of the operation and the field situation. I said statements will talk about the details.

"The second point is that I do not want to get into an argument about what happened today and say if this is our legal right and option or not. In plain terms, this is our natural right. This is the only and logical way that is available. Neither the international community, international organizations, regional organizations, governments, regimes – with due respect to them – nor political negotiations with empty hands will release the detainees. This is the natural option. Let the one who has another way to secure the release of detainees from the Israeli prisons tell us about it. If he has another way, why has he not done so for 20 years? Therefore, what we did today was first our natural right. I do not want to get into a legal, philosophical, or political discussion of this issue. Second, it is the only available way first to release the prisoners held in Israeli jails and second to draw the attention of the international community institutions on the highest level and all world media to the suffering of thousands of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Arab detainees – our Lebanese prisoners are small in number but their suffering is large – and the families of these detainees so that the world would know that there is a tragedy called 10,000 detainees and 10,000 families and permanent humiliation. What happened today, just like what happened in the Gaza Strip, sheds light and places the whole world before their responsibility towards this suffering. This is the background.

"We have not surprised anyone. I have been saying for over a year now or at least this year that we will seize prisoners and release others in an exchange. Is this not true? We said this on more than one occasion. After each statement, the Israelis used to declare a state of alert on the borders although they were always on alert. That happened before Gaza developments. Accordingly, this is a decision taken in the past. The resistance said its priority in 2006 would be capturing Israeli soldiers in order to close the file of prisoners for good. This is the priority. We have observed calm throughout that time in spite of all circumstances. I told some political leaders of the country in closed sessions that taking prisoners would be the only exception.

"We cannot forget, ignore, or delay this suffering. We said we would take prisoners whenever possible and we would do so without any hesitation. This is actually what we did. Today's operation was carried out within this context. In terms of context and time, this operation is certainly large support for our brothers in Palestine who are being murdered daily under the eyes and ears of the whole world without anyone saying a word or taking action as if no conscience, values, honour, magnanimity, courage, ethics, or human feelings remained in this world. Today the mujahidin of the Islamic resistance want to reactivate the values of this nation. But this happened within the normal context of a decision made before the Gaza incidents. This should be made clear in order not to mix what is local with what is regional.

"The operation took place today and the prisoners are present. Israel has thus far carried out a number of actions. We have exercised a high degree of self-restraint, but any incursion or advance into the Lebanese territories will be strongly met. A number of Israeli military command positions were struck 30 minutes ago as a clear message that the self- restraint the resistance has been exercising thus far is not exercised out of weakness or hesitation. It is a clear message that we are ready to go far, but we continue to exercise self-restraint and react in a calculated and well-studied manner.

"In view of the fact that the Israelis will meet at 1900 or 2000 to decide the way to deal with the major development that took place in Lebanon, we want to say the following: These prisoners that we hold will never go home except in one way: Indirect negotiations and exchange. That is it. No one in this world can return them home, except through indirect negotiations and an exchange. If the Israelis ponder any military action to regain the two prisoners, they will be disappointed [he repeats the preceding word four times]. Israel will not be able to return these two prisoners home – or rather the usurped land – even if the whole world supports it. Accordingly, military action will be useless if it is aimed at recovering them. Let the Israelis do what they want. Since the first moment, Lebanon – government, people, and resistance – have been under enormous pressures from the US ambassador, the UN envoy, and foreign embassies.

"You can knock down walls as you wish and make all the threats you want. We came across a similar situation of threats and exaggeration in 2000. In any case, no military operation will result in rescuing these prisoners. This is certain. I do not have to explain why. I think all the people who hear us now understand us well. The only method, as I indicated, is that of indirect negotiations and a swap. If the purpose of military action is to make Lebanon pay a price for the operation, especially since they will say they are unable to recover the soldiers but Lebanon must pay the price of the operation the resistance carried out in southern Lebanon, I would then say the following clear and accurate words. I know how sensitive the situation on the Lebanese, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, and international level is. I know exactly what position we are in. Our aim from what happened at 0905 was capturing Israeli soldiers for swap purposes and that is all. We do not wish to escalate things in the south. This is not our intention. We do not want to push Lebanon to war. We do not want to push the region to war.

"With regard to calm efforts, I am not demanding calm. Last time on 27 May, we did not ask Israel for a cease-fire. There is now an occasion. Let the world hear me. The UNIFIL contacted us and said: "We are trying to arrange a cease-fire. Are you ready?" We told them we had no problem. I do not request a cease-fire, but if any party engages in an effort to achieve a cease-fire, then we do not have any problem with that because we do not have any intention to escalate matters. However, if the Israel enemy wants an escalation and thinks it can make Lebanon pay the price, then we are ready for a confrontation to the farthest limit this enemy and the ones behind it may imagine. The Israelis currently in power include Olmert, who is a new prime minister. There are also a new defence minister and new chief of staff. I advise them before they meet at 2000 to ask the former presidents and ministers about their experience in Lebanon. When one is still new, he may be cheated. In order not to be cheated, they should first ask and make sure.

"Second, the reason for today's operation was one-upmanship within the enemy government during the previous prisoner exchange. We reached agreement during the previous exchange, according to which Samir al-Qintar, Yahya Skaf, Nasim Nisr, and others would be released, but one-upmanship within the enemy government and the vote taken – you may recall it was 12 to 11 – excluded these men from the deal. The one-upmanship which obstructed that operation led to today's military situation. Today I advise them not to bargain with one another and benefit from all past experiences."

"We are ready and better prepared than this enemy might think. We have been preparing for such a day for years, that is, since 25 May 2000. The people were comfortable on 26 May 2000. Hezbollah has since 26 May 2000 been preparing for a day that might impose on Lebanon a confrontation of this type. To the chief of staff, who threatens to return Lebanon to the way it was 20 years ago, I say: Today's Lebanon is different from Lebanon 20 years ago. The resistance is different, its capabilities are different, its morale is different, its will is different, and its land and people. Therefore, this is a wrong comparison. There is a difference. I do not need to make threats because the one who makes too many threats may not really want to do much. You know Hezbollah and its credibility.

"The story is briefly that the prisoners should return in an exchange that takes place through indirect negotiations. The world wants calm and we are ready for it. If they want a confrontation, we will be ready to go to the farthest limit in this confrontation. If they chose confrontation, then they should expect surprises. We are not afraid of this confrontation and will not hesitate to have it. We will go to it with firm determination, strong faith, and confidence in the victory that will be granted by the almighty God. I know that all the honest and faithful Lebanese people as well as the Arab and Islamic peoples and all free and honourable people in the world stand by our side. We are not at all isolated. The one who sides with the enemy will be the one isolated by this nation. The one who sides with the resistance will be the one who acts in harmony with this nation. This is my message to the enemy.

"The following is my message to Lebanon. This is not the right time for one-upmanship, discussions, and arguments in Lebanon. I am not asking anybody for support or backing, but I want to draw the attention of Lebanese people, including officials and non-officials, to refrain from acting in a way that would encourage the enemy against Lebanon or to speak or act in a way that would provide cover for the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. It is time for solidarity and cooperation to confront this obligation. We will later be ready for any discussion or argument. Beware of committing any mistake that may help, back, or support aggression. This is the time for national feelings and responsibility to prevail. We acted with a national sense of responsibility. You may discuss what is right or wrong with me and this is good, but the country is now facing an obligation. All should behave with a national sense of responsibility. The Lebanese Government should behave in a national sense of responsibility.

"Intensive contacts were made today. These said: You have to return the two Israeli soldiers safely now, or else you will face a difficult situation. Of course they will say we will face a difficult situation. My answer is: What more do they want? They are demanding the two soldiers and want us to return them and apologize for what happened. They want something additional to give them. What sort of world are we living in? This is inconceivable. It is true that the Lebanese Government is responsible for protecting the country, but this protection requires it not to expose Lebanon to an Israeli aggression. This is my message to Lebanon.

"My message to the brother Palestinians is: More patience, steadfastness, and forebearance. What happened in Lebanon today might open a way out of the crisis in Gaza. In other words, the Israelis are saying we do not want to negotiate with Hamas, because the operation took place in Gaza. We say: All right. Israel usually negotiates with us. At first they say no, but then they accept. This may take place after a week, month, or year, but finally they will say let us negotiate. One way out might be the fact that one plus two equals three, so let us negotiate. We do not object to a joint Lebanese-Palestinian effort in this connection to emerge from this crisis which the entire region is involved in because of the occupation and because of the Israeli aggression and the continued Israeli inhumane and barbaric detention of 10,000 prisoners in Israeli prisons. There is steadfastness in Palestine and Lebanon. The whole nation is with us, God willing, and we can cross this stage. "I also tell the news media to act in a responsible manner. None should act in a way that serves the enemy through the media by spreading an atmosphere of terror, fear, and frustration. This will be a service done to the Israelis. This is what some news media are doing now. They are reporting incorrect things. Even they try to frighten the people with the way the Israeli language is presented. As for the resistance, it will not be frightened by the Israelis or the news media that quote the Israelis. I would also like to say that the news media must shoulder a basic responsibility on this level. The morale of people in Lebanon, particularly in the south.

"I was in constant contact with the people in the frontline villages and our brothers there. The situation in the villages, towns, and cities shows that the people there are acting as if there is a large victory and there is real joy. The people are largely willing to act with steadfastness and endurance as is the case in occupied Palestine. I hope that the frustrated or weak-willed people will not act in a manner that spreads their frustration or weak will to other people. Moreover, this is not the time for settling internal scores. There is now a national battle and national attitude. The one who thinks of settling internal scores will lose. The country will also lose. We will thus be rendering a service to the enemy. We do not want to get into a controversy with anyone internally.

"We call on all to act in a sense of national responsibility. God willing, we will remain steadfast and ready for all eventualities. You know that by saying so I do not exaggerate or try to raise morale. The morale of the mujahidin and people is greater than any words we may say. I want to conclude with an appeal, after which you can ask questions. The appeal is from the land of southern Lebanon, the land of Palestine, the blood of the Lebanese and Palestinian martyrs and wounded, and the destroyed homes. It is an appeal to the Iraqi people. In the name of all the pure blood spilled in Lebanon and Palestine by the Lebanese and Palestinians, particularly from the Shi'is and Sunnis, we appeal to you and tell you: Beloved and dear brothers, do not go too far in what you are doing. The ones sowing enmity and hatred among you are the US occupation and the Zionists. Search for the Mossad elements that have been recruited from various parts of the world and brought to Iraq to kill and cause bombings here and there in order to force Iraq into a Shi'i-Sunni war and, consequently, spread this war to the entire region.

"We have always appealed to the Iraqi people, leaders, senior clerics, and parties no matter how different and far apart they are in their political views. Certainly there are martyrs in southern Lebanon and Palestine today. There are martyrs every day. We appeal to them in the name of the dearest thing the Shi'is and Sunnis possess, that is, the blood of their beloved ones, sons, men, women, and children, to be on their guard against the enemy, which seeks to fragment, destroy, and humiliate this nation. I appeal to all to return to their senses. Those among you who would like to ask questions, please go ahead. Please you may ask questions now if you have any. Ask me, I hear you.

"[Nasrallah] All this is premature. Let us first deal with the present situation. As for the issue of how we will negotiate, what is our negotiations strategy, what are the demands and to spare you many questions, we will discuss this in due time. The priority is how to overcome the current situation.

"[Nasrallah] Are you hearing the questions so that I may not be obliged to repeat them? Do you hear the questions on television? You are hearing what I say? The important thing is that they are heard on television. This is one of the controversial issues in Lebanon. But I do not want to discuss this now for this is not the time. This needs to be discussed in a calm atmosphere. This was part of the discussion during the dialogue sessions. But I would like to ask a question. If we were to wait for a Lebanese consensus or for the Lebanese government, or a Lebanese dialogue session to making a decision on taking prisoners, will they make such a decision now, or after 100 years? They will not make any decision and the young men will remain in prison and their tribulation will continue. In the final upshot, we believe that there is a territory that is occupied, there is an aggression, there is a daily violation of sovereignty, and there are prisoners in the jails. This is a natural right and I believe this is in line with the ministerial statement the government issued. If we continue to discuss this in more detail, we will be tackling a controversial issue.

"An Arab space channel reported that the Israeli soldiers who were captured were Druze. It goes without saying that they say this to minimize the impact of the incident. How do you reply to this?

"[Nasrallah] They did not ask them for their identity cards or their sectarian affiliation. I believe that they [the Israelis] do not mention this in the identity cards not like we do in Lebanon where the religion is mentioned. What is important is that those are Israeli soldiers who are part of the Israeli Army no matter what their religion or sect is. This does not change anything, as far as I am concerned.

"You spoke about indirect negotiations for exchanging prisoners. Have any relevant quarters, like the Germans for example, contacted you concerning this exchange? My second question is do you not find it strange that with all the tension that has surfaced on the Lebanese-Israeli borders over the past months, you can find some Israelis strolling alone in that area waiting to be captured. Is this not a scheme?

"With respect to the first question, no one contacted us. The priority for all the parties now is to bring pressure to bear on Lebanon and the resistance to obtain the unconditional release of the soldiers. This is now the priority of the United States, the United Nations, the international community and the embassies. It goes without saying that we will not give in to this. At a later stage, when things become clear, we will find out who will ask for initiatives or make proposals. So far, this is still too early to talk about. As for your question on the Israelis, they were not on a picnic. We have been exerting efforts for several months. We carried out strenuous, major, accurate, and expert efforts and we thank God for granting us success.

"Has the Lebanese Government contacted you to coordinate on what happened?

"[Nasrallah] We never coordinate the timing of operations. Can I tell the government that I am going to carry out an operation to take people prisoners? I will be asking it to assume a heavy responsibility. Oh, you mean after the operation? Yes, there are contacts. There were contacts from the very first moment. We held contacts from the very first moment with many political leaders, with the president of the republic, the prime minister, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, and with several of the relevant political leaders and the relevant religious leaders. We met with Prime Minister Fu'ad al-Sanyurah and his political assistant al-Hajj Husayn Khalil. We are in constant contacts. We will see what we will agree.

"With respect to the exchange and your conditions, will the exchange cover the Lebanese prisoners only or will the exchange also cover Palestinian prisoners? My second point is if Israel reacts against Lebanon today or any other day, God forbid, and we hear Lebanese voices hold Hezbollah responsible, what will Hezbollah say in addition to the messages you addressed today?

"[Nasrallah] The first point – everything is still premature. I said that we will discuss anything that has to do with the negotiations strategy and the demands later on. As for the second point, the Lebanese resistance will confront, God willing any Israeli aggression. It goes without saying that there will be people who disagree. This has always been the case. I am one of those who says that there has never been a national consensus on an issue as clear as this one since 1982. There is no national consensus now. I do not see any problem in this. Therefore, this will not change anything in our duty to defend and exert efforts. It goes without saying that I wish that we achieve national cohesion on this issue and every party assumes its responsibility. The government and the political leaders should assume their responsibilities.

"I hope that the incumbent prime minister will follow the example of late martyr Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 1996 when he toured the entire world to confront the aggression on Lebanon. He differed with us and he did not support our operations. He used to argue about their timing. But when we had to face the situation, he acted with national responsibility. The prime minister, who says that he follows the policy steps of martyr Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is asked today to act with the same level of national responsibility as Martyr Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

"If you permit me to say, were the two soldiers captured on Lebanese territory or on the other side of the occupied Palestinian territory for a series of other stands hinge on this point...

"[Nasrallah] Nothing depends on this point when there is an occupied territory. You can refer to the legal opinion by late Professor Edmond Na'im. The legal viewpoint is clear. Under international law, if one inch of our land is occupied, we have the right to carry out operations in Tel Aviv. If there is one inch of Lebanese territory that is still occupied, we have the right to carry out operations in Tel Aviv under international law. We are not carrying out operations in Tel Aviv. This means we are not exercising our legal right under international law. Therefore, there is no difference from the legal point of view if we take them prisoners in Shab'a Farm, the borders, near the barbed wire, or a few meters beyond the borders. This is our right under international law. We should not forget that they are holding Lebanese prisoners, claiming they are prisoners of war. Capturing soldiers is also legal to undertake an exchange operation. We do not believe there is any difference. You might tell me that it would have been better had they been captured in the Shab'a Farms. Had they been strolling in the farms, we would have captured them there.

"Abbas Hajj Hasan: Your eminence, how do you read the statements of the Israeli enemy prime minister holding the Lebanese Government fully responsible for what took place today and his statements that the affair is now between two states? If you allow me to ask the second part of my question: While bringing glad tidings to the prisoners in the Israeli jails, particularly to the dean of prisoners Samir Quntar, what do you have to say to the prisoners?

"[Nasrallah] Please remind me what was the first part of your question? But let me answer the second part. The operation was originally named "Freedom for Samir Al-Quntar and his brothers" The title was a bit long and they said that from a technical point of view let us shorten it to "True Promise" for the promise was made to Samir and his brothers. I would like to tell Samir and his brothers: You are on the verge of being freed. The question is a question of time. Negotiations, and discussions will be held and we will overcome this difficult stage. God willing, we hope that only a few things still have to be done. What was your first question? I just remembered it. They used to always hold the Lebanese Government responsible. Did they on any day not hold the Lebanese Government fully responsible? Even in Palestine, they used to hold President Yasir Arafat who was a prisoner in Ramallah responsible for everything that used to take place. This is a well known Israeli policy. They will now also blame Syria and Iran. This is their logic and something normal and not new.

"There is no doubt that this operation has boosted the morale of many Palestinians and Lebanese too. But have you taken into consideration the consequences of this operation if Israel decides to reply in Lebanon, particularly that the Lebanese economic situation does not suffer any action? Another question: To what extent does this operation support Hezbollah's viewpoint at the dialogue sessions?

"[Nasrallah] All those who had a viewpoint said it at the dialogue sessions. And I believe we were trying to reach some place. We were somewhat flexible and adopted a positive approach. Therefore, I can read any event in a way that will support my viewpoint while others can read it in a manner that will support their viewpoint. But the truth is that our objective was not to support our viewpoint at the dialogue sessions. Simply speaking, there are prisoners in the Israeli jails and they can only return if there are prisoners and an exchange operation, and we carried out this operation to get prisoners. This is all there is to the matter. There will be consequences? Of course, there will be and we have taken this into consideration.

"In any case, we consider this to be part of the ongoing conflict and we all must be ready to offer sacrifices. I said more than once on previous occasions – and I thank you for your question – I wish that every mother in Lebanon considers herself to be the mother of Samir Quntar and imagine that her son is in the place of Samir Quntar. How will this mother, father, brother, sister act? Let us approach the issue from this humanitarian angle. Everything on the material level can be compensated but on the moral and humanitarian level, one cannot bring back what is no longer there.

"You are simplifying things by saying that this is just an operation to free the prisoners in Israel. However, threats have been levelled at Syria. You may be dragging the region into a war and you may be reshuffling the cards and becoming victim of a trap prepared by the international community that wants through Resolution 1559 to divest you of weapons?

"[Nasrallah] They are using the same logic that was used in 1982. In 1982, when the resistance rose to fight Israel, the Israelis threatened Syria, Iran, the Arab governments, and Lebanon. These threats used to accompany every resistance operation. They used to say: You will drag the region into war. Has the region ever emerged from war to have them claim that we are dragging it once again into war? The region is in a state of war. It is a war that gets cold at times, and warms up at other times. If we are to accept this logic, our land will have remained under occupation and we would be running counter our former logic. Our prisoners will remain in prison, our land will remain occupied, and our sovereignty will continue to be encroached upon. We never said and I do not believe that anyone has imagined that Lebanon is practically not at war. Let them think about those in the prisons before making such claims.

"Abbas Nasir from Al-Jazeera Space channel: You said that Hezbollah and the resistance so far exercise self-restraint in replying to the Israeli aggression and that the resistance only replied to the Israeli incursion that took place...

"[Nasrallah] against some of the leading military positions.

"[Nasir] Yes. What is the dividing line between self-restraint and reply to the aggression? Does it have to do with killing civilians, attacking Beirut, or just an overland incursion? Is there a certain limit for you to exercise self-restraint?

"[Nasrallah] Let us leave this as developments take place. There is no need to tell the Israelis now how we will act. Therefore, I did not want to enter into details or level threats. The enemy knows we are serious, capable, and ready and are willing to assume the responsibility. The enemy also knows that we have the necessary courage and cool nerves that makes us think in a sedate manner too. Therefore, let us see how things will develop and things will fare well, God willing.

"It seems that your wishes concerning the Lebanese arena are not faring well. At the ministerial meeting that was held at 1400, disagreement in stands surfaced. Are you trying to open channels of communication with the Lebanese figures from the 14 March forces like Minister Junblatt or Dr Ja'ja to emphasize to them that the time is for national accord and not for domestic disagreements?

"[Nasrallah] I appeal to all the parties. But there is no need for me to contact this or that leader and enter into an argument on what happened, for we cannot change what happened and we can later discuss whether what happened was right or wrong. They want to hold us responsible for what happened. I am ready to assume the responsibility to see if what we are doing is not a humanitarian, moral, national, or pan-Arab act. This needs quite some time. In any case, I said that I asked them to behave and assume their national responsibility. I once again hope that every minister in the government that will most probably meet and is currently meeting and every official in the 14 March, 8 March, 10 May, 14 February forces and in all the groupings that you want should imagine that his son is the one imprisoned in Israel and not Samir Quntar and then decide how he should act. If he does so, I will accept his viewpoint but on condition he speaks in a sincere manner.

"You hinted during your talk that the operation to exchange prisoners with the Israelis might cover Palestinian prisoners. Do you not believe this hint or announcement violates an understanding you and the Free Patriotic Movement reached restricting the work or role of the resistance to the protection of Lebanon only. Do you not believe this expands the role of the resistance? A second question: No stands have been made as yet by any official of the 14 March forces. Do you not believe that the failure to adopt any stand so far is in itself a negative stand and might denote a political rift on the issue of the abduction of the two soldiers that took place today?

"[Nasrallah] With respect to the first point, I do not believe this violates the understanding for the title of the operation dealt with the Lebanese prisoners. To be honest, had Israel released all Lebanese prisoners through negotiations during the last prisons exchange, it would have robbed Hezbollah of any excuse to take prisoners, but as I said, their political one-upmanship led to this outcome, and they are therefore responsible. If we secure prisoners and have the opportunity to secure the release of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, and other Arab prisoners, regardless of numbers and details, it would be inhumane of me to say that I only wish to negotiate over Lebanese prisoners. There is absolutely no violation of the understanding. As for the 14 March forces, they can take the stand they want. Usually, they are known to take their time and study issues carefully. For example, with respect to the issue of Mahmud Rafi' and the Israeli network before, it took them one week before they declared their stand.

"The issue now is a hot issue and does not need one week. I believe that stands will be declared today or tomorrow because there is a major national responsibility. I once again appeal to them out of concern for the homeland and the entire country to act with a sense of national responsibility.

"You mentioned that the time now is for cooperation and solidarity and that you will discuss matters later on. If the exchange of prisoners succeeds, will this form a broader margin for discussing the defence strategy, and specifically the fate of the weapons of the resistance?

"[Nasrallah] This might be the case. We will now allow two more questions.

"If an open confrontation takes place between you and the Israeli enemy, what kind of support do you expect from Iran and Syria whose front has been closed since 1973? Is it true that you might meet Syrian President Bashar al-Asad far from the limelight?

"[Nasrallah] We did not meet in recent times. This is one point. Another point is that Syria and Iran have always backed Lebanon, but at the end of the day, it is our land that is occupied, and I will not wait to see who supports me and who opens their front – everyone is free to take whatever decision they want. In Lebanon, we fought and regained our lands, and we took prisoners and exchanged them for prisoners, and we will maintain this approach. Syria and Iran have always supported Lebanon and we thank them for this. I am confident that they now support Lebanon and Palestine and many international quarters are exerting major pressure on these two, reaching to the point of threats. But I believe that their stand is strong and firm. One last question, please.

"Is it true that the recent rapprochement between Hezbollah and the National Patriotic Movement provided a political cover on the domestic arena for carrying out such an operation at this time, in particular?

"[Nasrallah] I would like to tell you that we have been preparing for this operation for the past five months. Over the past months, we have held political talks, experienced political calm and tension, return to calm and a change in the discussions and the alliances, and cooperation. We have separated the issue of capturing the soldiers fro releasing the prisoners in the Israeli prisons from any domestic issues, whether these issues deal with dialogue, calm, alliances, and cooperation. These are separate issues. The resistance men were looking for soldiers to capture while in the domestic arena dialogue and arguments were being held. All the Lebanese people and forces, whether they are supporters or opponents, call for reactivating the government's work in the social and economic field. These forces said that they were ready to reactivate. We told them we are ready for this.

"We have called and continue to call and repeat that the country needs a national unity government and this is our logic and stand. But while we call for a national unity government, we remain ready to cooperate on all files, on the electricity, social security, water, and other files as well as the minimum wages. This does not conflict with what is taking place with respect to the issue of the prisoners for these are two completely separate issues. Let us take two more questions.

"With respect to the talk you addressed to Olmert, the Israeli Government will meet this evening. Since the attacks continue in the south, have you set a deadline for the Israelis in case the aggression continues? With respect to coordination with the army, does the resistance coordinate with the army during the military operations under way, meaning to confront the aggression?

"[Nasrallah] All that I know is that the army in the south is on full alert and the army's decision is to defend the country and this is what it has been doing over the past period and what it will do in the future. Field coordination has always existed within the required boundaries. As for setting deadlines, all this is premature. Let us wait and see how matters develop so that we might deal with them in a studied and calculated manner. I am now serious for this is the last question.

"You accustomed us to making very accurate calculations. Hezbollah in general and you personally study the situation in the region and international developments and take them into consideration. What were the elements that you took into consideration that made you decide to carry out this operation at this time? Do not tell me that this was a coincidence for you study the regional situation carefully?

"[Nasrallah] We decided from the beginning of 2006 to capture Israeli prisoners and we informed the resistance men about this decision. When they secured the soldiers, they brought them to us. I can do nothing if you do not want to believe me. This is the story. This is like the person who painted a picture and others tried to give it more importance than it deserves. We believed that regardless of the circumstances and developments, this should not prevent us from carrying out a prisoners exchange operation. This was an open policy. I would like to conclude. A Martyr fell today. He was not killed during the operation but in the clashes that took place later. Civilians were martyred and many were wounded. I do not know whether a young man, a soldier in the Lebanese army has been martyred or not. There are civilians who were wounded. You as media people are following these details.

"The martyrs are our martyrs and the martyrs of the homeland, the resistance. They are the martyrs of dignity, freedom, and resistance like all our martyrs who passed away and who scored all these gains. We wish speedy recovery to the wounded. We hope that with firmness, vitality, vigour, willpower, wisdom, awareness, and courage we will succeed to tackle this difficult stage in a manner that will achieve the ethical and humanitarian values that we all aspire for. May God's peace and blessings be upon you."

Al Manar, Lebanon