BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) — The leader of Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hezbollah group called Friday for the death in a US strike of top Iranian commander Major General Qasem Soleimani to be avenged.
“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement.
“We who stayed by his side will follow in his footsteps and strive day and night to accomplish his goals,” the leader of the powerful Shiite militant group said.
“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood,” Nasrallah said.
The “axis of resistance” is a term that refers to an alliance formed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to fight against Israel and the Western military presence in the region.
The heavily-armed Hezbollah group controls whole neighborhoods in Beirut and most of the south of Lebanon, including the area bordering Israel.
It also has fighters deployed in Syria and Iraq who were operating under Soleimani’s command.
The Syrian government condemned the killing of the top Iranian and Iraqi commanders in a US strike which was hailed by the opposition.
Also killed with Soleimani was the deputy chief of Iraq’s pro-Iran paramilitary organisation, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Syria is “certain that this cowardly US aggression… will only strengthen determination to follow in the path of the resistance’s martyred leaders,” a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.
The official described the killings as “a serious escalation of the situation” in the region and accused the United States of resorting to “the methods of criminal gangs.”
The unnamed official said the strike was “part of the (US) policy aiming to create tensions and fuel conflict in countries in the region.”
Soleimani had been a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and helped him save his position after an uprising that began in 2011 threatened to topple his regime.
He was Iran’s pointman in organizing Iranian forces and their Shiite-dominated foreign proxies on the Syrian battlefield and a frequent visitor to Damascus.
Leaders of Syrian opposition groups for their part hailed the death of a man they blame for thousands for thousands of deaths in the nearly nine-year-old civil war.
“The murder of Qasem Soleimani, the number one perpetrator of Revolutionary Guards’ crimes against the people of Syria and Iraq, is a blow that confirms that the world is able to stop Iran and protect Syrian civilians if it wants to,” Nasr Hariri, a senior political opposition leader, said.
Ahmed Ramadan, another senior opposition figure, also praised the US strike.
“The killer of Syria’s children has been killed, the killer of Iraq’s free people has been killed,” he said in a post on social media.
In Washington, Republican lawmakers quickly spoke out in strong support of President Donald Trump’s attack that killed Soleimani, as Congress complained it received no advance notice of the strike.
The high praise from the right stood in stark contrast to reaction from Democrats, who severely criticized Trump’s latest move in a sign of Washington’s polarization ahead of this year’s presidential elections.
“In a display of resolve and strength, we struck the leader of those attacking our sovereign U.S. territories,” top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said in a statement.
The sentiment was swiftly echoed by his fellow Republicans.
“Wow — the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a close confidant of Trump, wrote on Twitter.
The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that killed an American contractor working in Iraq.
The White House traditionally gives warning to senior members of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives ahead of major military action.
But House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement that the strike “went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress.”
Soleimani was “the mastermind of immense violence” who has “the blood of Americans on his hands,” the Democratic lawmaker said.
But “to push ahead with an action of this gravity without involving Congress raises serious legal problems and is an affront to Congress’s powers as a coequal branch of government,” Engel said.