BEIRUT, Lebanon Hezbollah's leader sought to reassure the Lebanese about the Shiite militant group's intentions in a speech on Monday, saying that its newly expanded political clout will not translate into greater control over the state and that its top priority remains the fight against Israel.
The speech was Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's first public comment since a landmark agreement last week among Lebanon's political factions handed decisive new powers to Hezbollah and delivered a setback to allies of the U.S. here. His speech came a day after Lebanon's parliament elected a new president, formally ending 18 months of political conflict between the country's governing coalition and Hezbollah and its opposition allies.
"We don't want authority in Lebanon," Nasrallah said, speaking via a large television screen to a vast, flag-waving throng of supporters in Beirut's southern suburbs, Hezbollah's stronghold. "We don't want to control Lebanon. We don't want to impose our ideas on the Lebanese people."
Nasrallah also seemed sensitive to the criticism that has come Hezbollah's way since the clashes that took place here earlier this month, in the worst internal fighting since Lebanon's 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The group used its weapons against fellow Lebanese something it had promised never to do quickly routing and humiliating its enemies and provoking deep sectarian anger between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
"Regarding the recent events, we have sustained deep wounds, and they have sustained deep wounds," Nasrallah said.
As if to illustrate the persistence of those tensions, a gunbattle broke out just after the speech Monday evening in a mixed neighborhood of Beirut, apparently incited by celebratory gunfire by young Hezbollah members. Future Television, a channel owned by Hezbollah opponents, said 16 people had been injured.
The agreement among the country's political factions gave Hezbollah and its opposition allies the right to veto any Cabinet decision. But even as he played down Hezbollah's political ambitions, Nasrallah made clear that where national security is concerned, the group's role is not to be questioned.
In his speech on Monday, Nasrallah referred repeatedly to Hezbollah as the guardian of Lebanon's "defense strategy" in an apparent echo of Lebanon's new president, the former army commander Michel Suleiman. After being sworn in Sunday, Suleiman said Lebanon could learn from "the resistance" in formulating an overall defense strategy.