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BEIRUT, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Friday the United States must accept the Lebanese government’s demands over border disputes with Israel and vowed it was ready to act against Israel if necessary.
U.S. diplomats have been mediating between the two countries after a surge in tensions over a border wall which Israel is building and Lebanon’s decision to explore for offshore energy near disputed waters.
Earlier on Friday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told a U.S. envoy that Lebanon rejects current U.S. proposals over the marine border with Israel.
“The state must have a strong and firm position,” said Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed political and military movement, in a televised speech at a rally.
“If the Americans come and say you must be responsive so that I restrain Israel from you: tell the Americans they must accept (Lebanon’s) demands so that we hold Hezbollah back from Israel,” he added.
Nasrallah said the main issue currently at stake was Lebanon’s maritime borders.
“In the oil and gas battle, the only power (the Lebanese) have is the resistance,” he said, in a reference to the heavily armed, Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah.
The Lebanese army could not stop Israel in this matter, he said, because the United States - Israel’s key ally and also a key supporter of Lebanon’s military - would stand in its way.
“If Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants...should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours,” he said.
Nasrallah spoke in a televised address at a rally commemorating senior commanders, including former military leader Imad Moughniyah who was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008.
Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s as a resistance movement against Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon and the two remain bitter enemies. There has been no major conflict between them since a month-long war in 2006.
In recent years, Israeli jets have repeatedly struck Hezbollah arms stores and convoys in neighbouring Syria, where the group fights alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army. (Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)