World and Nation

Hezbollah leader says his forces will remain in Syria

LONDON — The head of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group whose armed followers are fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad, pledged Thursday that his forces would remain there as long as necessary.

The leader, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke at a Shiite Muslim ceremony in his stronghold in southern Beirut, held to observe Ashura, one of the most important holidays on the Shiite religious calendar. It commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nasrallah’s battle-hardened fighters joined the fray in Syria earlier this year to recapture a border town, and Assad’s foes say they have also been deployed on other fronts in the south near Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo in the north.

“As long as the reasons remain, our presence there will remain,” Nasrallah told thousands of his followers.

“Our fighters, our mujahedeen, are present on Syrian soil,” Nasrallah declared, adding that they were in Syria also to support Lebanon and Palestinian causes, “to confront all the dangers of the international, regional and takfiri attack on this country and on this region.” Takfiri refers to the extremist Sunni Muslim fighters aligned with al-Qaida who have joined the attempt to overthrow Assad.

Nasrallah’s remarks seemed to be directed specifically at the fighting within Syria and was not seen as a general call to arms, analysts said.