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Hezbollah Leader Claims Iran-Backed Forces Strong Despite U.S. Sanctions

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon's militant Shi'ite movement Hizballah
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon's militant Shi'ite movement Hizballah

The leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militia claims his group is stronger than ever despite U.S. sanctions and expects to "very soon" celebrate victory in the long war in Syria, where its fighters have battled alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

In a televised speech in Beirut on August 14, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said "the resistance in Lebanon today, in its possession of weapons and equipment and capabilities and members and cadres and ability and expertise and experience, and also of faith and determination and courage and will, is stronger than at any time since its launch in the region."

Iran has been backing Hezbollah financially and militarily since the militant group was established in 1982.

Nasrallah claimed U.S. efforts to ratchet up sanctions this year against his group and Iran are not working and will not lead to a popular revolt against the Islamist leaders in Tehran -- something U.S. President Donald Trump has appeared to encourage in Twitter posts.

"They are building dreams...that Iran will head toward chaos and the regime will fall. This is illusion, this is imagination and has nothing to do with reality," Nasrallah said.

"Iran has been facing sanctions since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979," he said. "[Trump] is strengthening the sanctions, but they have been there since 1979 and Iran stayed and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory of its revolution."

Iranian and Hezbollah forces have accompanied Syrian troops in battles across the country which in the last year have seen the government regain control over most of Syria's territory after seven years of war that have left more than 400,000 people dead and millions more without homes.

As Assad has reasserted his control over territory once held by rebels, including reclaiming Syria's border with Israel in the last month, Tel Aviv has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to maintain a permanent presence in the neighboring country.

Israel's air force has conducted numerous deadly raids this year on facilities in Syria used by Hezbollah and Iranian forces.

"Let no one threaten us with wars," Nasrallah said. "If anyone wants to launch a war, they are welcome to do so. We are ready for it and we will win," he said.

Israel launched a 33-day war against Hezbollah in 2006, with battles taking place across Lebanon.

The two sides have maintained an uneasy cease-fire since then, despite raids by Israeli fighter jets from time to time claiming to have stopped weapons transfers from Syria to Hezbollah.

Israel has claimed Iran is not only supplying weapons to Hezbollah but has plans to build weapons factories in Syria and Lebanon as its consolidates and augments its presence in the region.

Fears that Iran may be building up such forces near its borders have prompted Israeli leaders to demand that all Iranian forces must leave Syria as part of any settlement ending the civil war there.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters