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Hezbollah chief Nasrallah meets Ahmadinejad in Syria

From left: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an interpreter, Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah (25 February 2010)
Hassan Nasrallah (far right) has made few public appearances since 2006

The head of the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has made a rare public appearance in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Sheikh Nasrallah attended a dinner with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He is under an Israeli death threat and makes very few appearances in public. When he addresses Hezbollah, he does so by video from a secret location.

Both Syria and Iran provide the group with financial and military support.

Hezbollah fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006 during which more than 1,200 Lebanese people, mostly civilians, were killed. Some 160 Israeli people, most of whom were soldiers, also died.

In November, Sheikh Nasrallah vowed to boost the capacity of its military wing and threatened to retaliate if Israel attacked Lebanon.

'Deep' ties

Since 2006, the Hezbollah leader has made few public appearances in Lebanon, even avoiding key religious and political occasions.

If the Zionist regime decides to repeat its past mistakes, the region will finish it off
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President

His fear of an assassination attempt has been particularly heightened since February 2008, when the commander of his group's military wing, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus.

Hezbollah blamed Israel for the attack, but it denied any involvement.

Before Thursday's dinner, Sheikh Nasrallah and President Ahmadinejad discussed "the latest developments in the region, and Zionist threats against Lebanon and Syria", Hezbollah's al-Manar television reported.

"If the Zionist regime decides to repeat its past mistakes, the region will finish it off," al-Manar quoted the Iranian leader as saying.

After bilateral talks on Thursday, President Assad said Syria and Iran were working together to confront "Israeli terrorism".

Both leaders dismissed US calls for Syria to distance itself from Iran, emphasising their "deep and brotherly" ties.

The meeting came a week after the US signalled an attempt to improve ties with Syria, sending a senior official to Damascus for talks and nominating a new ambassador after the withdrawal of his predecessor five years ago.



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