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Hezbollah leader's speech is expected to weigh in on the Israel-Hamas war

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Early this week, our team had a chance to visit Israel's northern border, and we listened in the darkness as Israeli troops and Hezbollah traded fire. What an Israeli officer called a slow-motion war has continued all week. And today, the leader of Hezbollah is giving a speech. NPR's Ruth Sherlock covers Lebanon. Hey there, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How has the fighting changed since I was there the other day?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, yesterday we saw a pretty significant escalation. Hezbollah struck Israeli army posts with two suicide drones, and it says it's the first time they've used this kind of weaponry in this conflict. And then a branch of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, of course, says it fired about a dozen rockets from Lebanon towards Kiryat Shmona, a northern Israeli town. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, like you know, Steve, have already been evacuated from these areas. But we're also seeing reports in Lebanon of smaller Iranian-backed Palestinian factions also gathering on the southern border to try to launch attacks from there. And Israel is retaliating with airstrikes and artillery.

INSKEEP: Meaningful, the sheer number of groups you just named there who have weapons and could do something. But of course, Hezbollah is the big one, the one that controls the ground. So what does it mean that their leader is talking today?

SHERLOCK: Well, yeah, you're right. And of course, you know, this is the first time that Hassan Nasrallah, that's Hezbollah's leader, has spoken since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. And Hezbollah is allied with Hamas. They're both backed by Iran. So there's this huge anticipation to know, what is Hezbollah's strategy, what are they going to do? I put this to Nicholas Blanford. He's a Lebanon-based expert on the group.

NICHOLAS BLANFORD: The statements - the few statements from Hezbollah officials and Iranian officials, particularly the foreign minister, suggest to me that, yes, we're going to escalate. We're going to put pressure on the Israelis from the north. We're going to do our bit for the Palestinian cause, to help our brothers and Hamas, but we are not willing to go into a full war at this stage.

SHERLOCK: Yeah.

BLANFORD: With a caveat that we - of course, we're in a very, very dangerous situation, one that is potentially ripe for miscalculation.

SHERLOCK: You know, Steve, I think the salient point here is that for Iran, it's a strategic calculation. Hezbollah has these thousands of missiles, and Iran has used the group as a powerful deterrent. Anyone who wants to attack Iran's nuclear program or try to destabilize the regime knows they have to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. So the question is, if Hamas looks like they're about to be defeated, will Iran commit Hezbollah to the war and, you know, invite this wider regional conflict?

INSKEEP: Ruth, here on the Israeli side I've gotten a sense of the human cost of all this. I've been in a hotel full of people who were evacuated from the north. I've been up north and talked to people who aren't evacuated and are stressed out by the constant gunfire. What is the human cost on the Lebanese side?

SHERLOCK: Well, there's, you know, over 25,000 people already displaced in Lebanon. Some of them are living with relatives or in university halls turned into shelters. I spoke with one woman. She's a public official from a southern Israeli - excuse me, a southern Lebanese town. And she talked about how she's already been displaced twice by the fighting, by the Israeli airstrikes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: And she's saying, you know, she's especially cautious about staying anywhere dangerous because she remembers the 2006 war with Israel. And that's the case for many Lebanese, Steve, they remember conflict, and they want to do everything they can to avoid getting dragged into another one.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Thanks for your insights.

SHERLOCK: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERGEY CHEREMISINOV'S "WAY TO SILENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.
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