Hezbollah chief to break silence on Israel-Hamas war

Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday will break weeks of silence since war broke out between Hamas and Israel, in a speech that could impact the region as the Gaza conflict rages.

After Hamas militants launched an unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon’s southern border has seen escalating tit-for-tat exchanges, mainly between Israel and Hezbollah, an ally of the Palestinian group, stoking fears of a broader conflagration.

The cross-border attacks heated up Thursday, as Israel responded with a “broad assault” after Hezbollah attacked 19 Israeli positions simultaneously, according to the group.

Rockets also hit the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border in a barrage claimed by the Lebanese section of Hamas’s armed wing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has warned that “the region is like a powder keg” and that “anything is possible” if Israel does not stop attacking Gaza.

US President Joe Biden has sent two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean and warned Hezbollah and others to stay out of the conflict.

“We’ve got significant national security interests at play here,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

“I don’t believe we’ve seen any indication yet specifically that Hezbollah is ready to go in full force. So we’ll see what he has to say.”

Nasrallah’s highly anticipated speech will be broadcast as part of an event in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Friday, in memory of fighters killed in Israeli bombardments.

Supporters began gathering in the area ahead of the speech, waving the Hezbollah, Lebanese, Palestinian and Iranian flags, an AFP photographer said.

‘Red line’ factors –

On the Lebanese side, 72 people have been killed, among them at least 54 Hezbollah fighters but also other combatants and civilians, one a Reuters journalist, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side, at least six soldiers and one civilian have been killed, the army said.

Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht warned that “it wouldn’t be in his (Nasrallah’s) interest right now to escalate in the north”, but that if it happened, “our response will be very, very severe”.