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Hezbollah leader says only U.S. military should be targeted in retaliatory attacks

Supporters of the Hezbollah watch the movement's leader deliver a speech
Hezbollah supporters watch the movement's leader Hassan Nasrallah deliver a speech on a screen in Beirut, Jan. 5. Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Iran-allied Hezbollah movement, said during a speech Sunday that only U.S. military assets, not U.S. civilians, should be targeted in retaliatory attacks for the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, according to the Washington Post.

"It is the U.S. military that killed Haj Qasem, and they must pay the price."
— Hassan Nasrallah, using an honorific for Soleimani

Why it matters: President Trump tweeted Saturday that the U.S. military has 52 Iranian targets in the event that Iran or its proxies strike American assets, including cultural sites. The threat prompted outrage from Iranian officials, who accused Trump of advocating war crimes.

What he's saying: Nasrallah said targeting non-military Americans would benefit Trump, according to WashPost.

  • "There are many U.S. civilians in our region — engineers, businessmen, journalists. We will not touch them. Touching any civilian anywhere in the world will only serve Trump’s policy."
  • When calling for retribution, "we do not mean the American people," he said. "The true, just retribution for those who conducted this assassination is an institution, which is the U.S. military. We will launch a battle against those killers, those criminals."

Between the lines: During the speech, Nasrallah avoided mentioning Lebanon as a potential site to launch retaliation attacks and distanced the country from Iran, saying "we are not tools to be directed by Iran."

The big picture: By interfering in a conflict between Iran and the U.S., Hezbollah could squander the political benefits it will gain from forming a new Lebanese government with a Hezbollah nominee as prime minister.

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