BEIRUT (AP) – The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said on Friday he wanted the next Lebanese president to be a politician who would not “betray” the Iran-backed faction, attacking the United States for doing so , which he described as an undeclared “siege” over his country.
Hassan Nasrallah spoke via video link to supporters gathered to mark Hezbollah Martyr’s Day, a commemoration of the group’s fallen fighters, and did not name a Hezbollah favorite for the presidency. But his comments indicated the shadowy militant leader plans to exert influence over those elected.
The Lebanese parliament has failed in five attempts to elect a new president after the term of President Michel Aoun, a strong Hezbollah ally, ended on October 31. This has left Lebanon in a political vacuum with an interim government that lacks full powers as the country ravages the worst economic and financial crisis in modern history.
“We want a president who will not stab the resistance in the back,” Nasrallah said, using a term that has become synonymous with Hezbollah. “We want a president who calms the resistance.”
The public perception is that Nasrallah’s Hezbollah broadly backs politician Sleiman Frangieh, a close ally, for the post.
The Western-backed coalition in Lebanon supports Michel Moawad, a harsh critic of Hezbollah and its arsenal. In the final round of parliament, Moawad received 44 votes in his favour, well short of the two-thirds majority required in the 128-member legislature.
Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, in place since the country’s independence from the French mandate in 1943, a president must come from the Maronite Catholic sect; the prime minister is Sunni and the speaker of the parliament is Shiite.
Hezbollah was the only group allowed to keep its arms after Lebanon’s brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990 because it was fighting against Israeli troops occupying parts of southern Lebanon. After Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah retained its weapons, saying they were a necessary defense to ward off any future attack by Israel.
Hezbollah fought a 34-day war against Israel in the summer of 2006 to a draw. Israel today regards Hezbollah – designated by the US and Israel as a terrorist group – as its most serious imminent threat, and estimates that the militant group has about 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at it.
Nasrallah also blamed the “American curse” for Lebanon’s energy shortages, saying Washington’s sanctions are preventing Lebanon from receiving free Iranian fuel for its power plants.
His speech followed USAID chief Samantha Power’s visit to Lebanon on Wednesday, who announced the US would provide $80.5 million in aid for food aid and solar-powered water pumping stations in crisis-hit Lebanon.
Power also met with Lebanese political leaders to push for a solution to the political vacuum and a series of political and economic reforms called for by the International Monetary Fund to secure a $3 billion aid package for Lebanon .