Hezbollah commemorates Qassem Suleimani’s death with thousands-strong rally

Pro-Iran Lebanese party views the assassinated Iranian general as a “martyr”

epa08104930 A supporter of Hezbollah carries a picture of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Lieutenant general as he waits for a televised speech of Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 05 January 2020. The US Pentagon announced that Iran's Quds Force leader Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed on 03 January 2020 following a US airstrike at Baghdad's international airport. The attack comes amid escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington.  EPA/WAEL HAMZEH
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Thousands of supporters of Lebanon’s pro-Iran party Hezbollah gathered in Beirut on Sunday to mourn Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, assassinated in a targeted US drone attack in Baghdad.

Defiance and anger against America were the strongest sentiments to emerge from the crowd, many wearing yellow “death to America” headbands, that had gathered to listen to a speech delivered by their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, on a giant screen.

“I was shocked when I first heard of his death,” said Hussein, a young man who would not give his last name. He carried a giant portrait of the Iranian general with an inscription that read: “we are their constant terror”, seemingly in reference to Hezbollah’s enemies.

“But then I knew that we must continue fighting even more,” he added.

One young man proudly showed a poster of a burning American flag with “severe revenge” - the phrase the Iranians used to describe their response to the strike - written across it both in English, Arabic and Farsi . A few Iranian flags were visible in the background alongside hundreds of yellow Hezbollah flags.

“The only thing America has achieved by killing Suleimani is that it must now withdraw from the region,”  a man standing in the crowdtold The National. His words were echoed a few minutes later by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. In a speech over an hour and a half long, he vowed that the United States would retreat from the region “humiliated, defeated and in terror.”

A Hezbollah supporter wears a headband reading "Death to America", as Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, delivers a televised speech, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. Nasrallah, the leader of Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, said the the conflict had entered a “new phase” and the price of Soleimani’s death should be the end of U.S. military presence across the region. Photographer: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg
A Hezbollah supporter wears a headband reading "Death to America", as Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech in Beirut. Bloomberg

Another man said that he felt “Shiite” before feeling “Arab”. Many argued that Suleimani represented the “axis of resistance” that united Palestine to Iran, via Lebanon.

“He is the symbol of jihad against oppression in the whole world,” said one of the attendees, who declined to give his name, as did many The National spoke to.

Nasrallah stoked already raging anti-American sentiment as he detailed the list of what he considered to be its “failures” in the region. In an attempt to increase his popularity in the United States ahead of a presidential election, Donald Trump committed a “clear crime” in assassinating Qassem Suleimani, he said.

The charismatic Hezbollah leader also highlighted his supposed proximity with Suleimani, saying he had met with him on New Year's Day, just a few days before his death, and had warned him several months ago that the United States was increasingly interested in him. He lauded the Iranian general for dying as a “martyr”, his “highest desire.”

Pro-Hezbollah media on Sundaypublished several pictures of the two men together in Beirut, smiling and looking relaxed.

During his speech, Nasrallah was interrupted several times by the enthusiastic crowd, who chanted both anti-American and pro-Hezbollah slogans. Several Lebanese journalists also raised their right arm in a show of support for the party.

One man, who was wearing the “death to America” headband, said that the headgear meant that he wished the death of “Trump, as well as all American leaders and soldiers in the Middle East”.

Separated from the men, thousands of women held pictures of Suleimani high up in the air, alongside Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who died in the same attack.

Their slogans were more cryptic, with pictures of Trump alongside Iranian leaders describing the American president as a “wolf” who should know that “if the father is gone, his gun is still present”. Journalists, who were closely watched by Hezbollah security guards, were not allowed to speak to them.