BEIRUT — In a rare public appearance, the leader of the militant Hezbollah group exhorted hundreds of thousands of supporters Monday to keep up the campaign against an anti-Islam video that has unleashed deadly violence and anger at the U.S. across the Muslim world.
Although the massive, well-organized rally in Beirut was peaceful, protesters in Afghanistan set fires near a U.S. military base, clashed with police in Pakistan, where one demonstrator was killed, and battled with officers outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
The turmoil surrounding the low-budget video that mocks the Prophet Muhammad showed no sign of ebbing in the week after protesters first swarmed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died amid a demonstration in Benghazi.
At least 10 protesters have died in the riots, and the targeting of Western diplomatic sites has forced Washington to increase security in several countries. Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut destroyed classified material as a security precaution, according to a State Department status report.
The appeal for sustained protests by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group, could stoke more fury over the video “Innocence of Muslims.”
Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since his group battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006, fearing Israeli assassination. Since then, he has communicated with his followers and gives news conferences mostly via satellite link.
He spoke for about 15 minutes before a rapturous crowd estimated by police at about 500,000, many with headbands of green and yellow — the colors of Hezbollah — and the words “at your service God’s prophet” written on them.
Nasrallah, who last appeared in public in December 2011 to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashoura, warned of serious repercussions if the U.S. does not ban the film and have it removed from the Internet.
“The world should know that our anger is not a passing thing. … This is the start of a serious campaign that must continue all over the Muslim world in defense of the prophet of God,” he said to roars of support.
“As long as there’s blood in us, we will not remain silent over insults against our prophet,” Nasrallah said, calling for a series of demonstrations this week to denounce the video.
Hezbollah’s rallies seem aimed at keeping the issue alive by bringing out large crowds. But the group — whose reputation across the Arab world has suffered over its support of the Syrian regime — also appeared to be trying to ensure it did not spiral into violence.