Hezbollah vows to end US military presence in Middle East

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group has vowed to end the US military’s presence in the Middle East, saying American bases, warships and soldiers are all fair targets following the recent killing of an Iranian general. Hassan Nasrallah said the US military “will pay the price” for the drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday. His comments further heightened tensions in a region already on high alert and bracing for Iranian retaliation.

President Donald Trump has threatened to bomb 52 sites in Iran if it retaliates by attacking Americans. Iran vowed to take an even-greater step away from its unravelling nuclear deal with world powers as a response to Gen Soleimani’s death.

Supporters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah chant slogans as he speaks on TV (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

“The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased,” Mr Nasrallah said. He spoke from an undisclosed location and his speech was played on large screens for thousands of Shi’ite followers in southern Beirut, interrupted occasionally by chants of “death to America”.

The comments were Mr Nasrallah’s first since Gen Soleimani’s killing. Mr Nasrallah spoke shortly before the Iraqi Parliament voted in favour of a Bill to expel the US military from Iraq by cancelling the military agreement between the two countries. More than 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq, based on an invitation by the Iraqi Government in 2014 to help fight the Islamic State group.

Hezbollah vows to end US military presence in Middle EastMourners on the funeral procession (Morteza Jaberian/Mehr News Agency/AP)

Earlier on Sunday, tens of thousands of mourners accompanied a casket carrying the remains of Gen Soleimani through two major Iranian cities as part of a grand funeral procession across the Islamic Republic for the commander killed by an American drone.

Mr Nasrallah said Gen Soleimani was not only Iran’s concern but the entire so-called “axis of resistance”, a term used to refer to anti-Israel militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. He said it was up to those groups to decide if and how they would retaliate as he praised Gen Soleimani and said “the shoe of Qassem Soleimani is worth the head of Trump and all American leaders”. Gen Soleimani’s killing escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge.

The conflict is rooted in Donald Trump pulling out of Iran’s atomic accord and imposing crippling sanctions. Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the US attack, which shocked Iranians across all political lines.

Hezbollah vows to end US military presence in Middle EastMourners surround a truck carrying the flag-draped coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and his comrades (Mohammad Mohsenifar/Mehr News Agency/AP)

After thousands in Baghdad on Saturday mourned General Soleimani and others killed in the strike, authorities flew the general’s body to the south-western Iranian city of Ahvaz. An honour guard stood by early on Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Gen Soleimani and other Guard members off the Tarmac.

The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Gen Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shi’ite flags, which traditionally both symbolise the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and call for their deaths to be avenged. Officials brought Gen Soleimani’s body to Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the bloody 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran, in which he slowly grew to prominence.

Authorities then took General Soleimani’s body to Mashhad.

His remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, followed by his hometown of Kerman for burial on Tuesday.

Gen Soleimani will lie in state at Tehran’s Musalla mosque on Monday.

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