BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Hezbollah group would fire thousands of rockets into Israel in any future war and target cities in the country's heartland, the group's leader said Sunday.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's warning came days after an eight-day Israeli offensive against Gaza ended with a truce. Nasrallah said Gaza militants had won "a clear victory" against Israel with their rocket bombardment.
Hezbollah, like Hamas and other Gaza militant factions, maintains a rocket arsenal and regularly threatens to use it. It fought an inconclusive 34-day war with the Jewish state in 2006 that left 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis dead.
The Gaza war marked the first use by Palestinian factions of a longer ranged Iranian-made rocket, the Fajr-5. It caused no casualties but did trigger air raid warnings in the heartland cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which, unlike cities closer to the Lebanese and Gaza borders, have not experienced any sustained missile attack since Iraqi Scuds were fired in the 1991 Gulf War.
Hezbollah fired at least one long-range rocket ineffectually in the 2006 war. But Israeli intelligence now believes the militant group has the capability to strike anywhere in the country, although Israel now deploys air defense systems designed to counter the threat.
In the Gaza conflict, Israeli aircraft launched some 1,500 strikes on targets linked to the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers and other groups, while Gaza militants fired roughly the same number of rockets into Israel.
Nasrallah said in a speech in Beirut that the Fajr-5 attacks "shook Israel." He asked: "How is it (Israel) going to stand thousands of rockets that will fall on Tel Aviv and other areas if it launches an aggression against Lebanon?"
Nasrallah spoke via a video link from a secret location to tens of thousands of supporters in Beirut who gathered to mark Ashoura, the annual Shiite commemoration of the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.
Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel during the 2006 war and is believed to have upgraded its arsenal since then. Nasrallah did not say how many missiles and rockets his group possesses, although in the past he said they have more than 20,000. Israel estimates the number at several times that.
"The battle with us is going to be all over occupied Palestine," the black-turbaned Nasrallah said. "From the border with Lebanon to the frontier with Jordan to the Red Sea."
"The Israelis should listen well to me. From Kiryat Shemona to Eilat," Nasrallah said referring to a northern Israeli town near the border with Lebanon to the southern resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea.
Since the 2006 war ended, both Israeli and Hezbollah officials have been warning each other that the next battle between the two groups will be more destructive.
Some Israeli generals had spoken of the "Dahiya doctrine," named after the Beirut suburbs considered a Hezbollah stronghold where Israel turned dozens of buildings to piles of debris in 2006.
In August, Nasrallah said Hezbollah will transform the lives of Israelis to "hell" if Israel attacks Lebanon, adding that the group would not hesitate to hit targets that would leave tens of thousands of Israelis dead.
Hezbollah was created in 1982, weeks after Israel invaded Lebanon. Israel withdrew in 2000 to a border drawn by the U.N., but Lebanon says Israel still occupies a slice of its territory.