MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
(Soundbite of cheering)
BLOCK: In Beirut today, hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters cheered on their leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as he spoke defiantly about Israel, the United States and the current Lebanese government. Nasrallah said Hezbollah won a divine, historic and strategic victory in its war with Israel.
Sheikh HASSAN NASRALLAH (Leader, Hezbollah): (Speaking foreign language)
BLOCK: It was Nasrallah's first public appearance since Israel began its offensive in July and he vowed not to disarm his fighters. Nasrallah claimed Hezbollah has 20,000 rockets, even after the 34 day war with Israel.
Reporter Leena Saidi was at the rally and she joins us from Beirut, and why don't you tell us what the scene was like at this rally today?
LEENA SAIDI: It was quite amazing. It was a sea of people in a huge, huge square surrounded by tall buildings. The people chanted and then as soon as it was announced that Nasrallah was coming in, they started cheering.
He stood up and he waved to the crowd. The security got very frightened. They brought down a curtain. He told them to take away the curtain and the crowd just went wild.
BLOCK: Was it a surprise that Nasrallah was appearing before this crowd?
SAIDI: It was because he even said himself, up to 30 minutes before he actually appeared, they'd still been discussing whether he would appear live or not.
He actually said in my heart, in my mind, in my soul, I couldn't address you from afar. And this just sent the crowd cheering again and from where I was sitting I could see grown men crying.
BLOCK: Crying? Just to see him?
SAIDI: Just to see him.
BLOCK: And Nasrallah was using this as a victory rally for Hezbollah.
SAIDI: Yes, this was a victory rally. He called it a divine victory.
BLOCK: This claim that Nasrallah is making about Hezbollah having 20,000 rockets, that's a number that by Western estimates, Hezbollah didn't have before the war began much less after. What do you make of that number?
SAIDI: What he actually said at this rally is quite interesting because he said it in a joking way at the beginning. He said, in previous rallies we said we had 12,000 rockets. When the war came, they were like counting how many rockets we'd used. Well, let me put everybody's mind at ease. There's no need for, like, air or sea or border surveillance because Hezbollah now have more than 20,000 rockets. And he was serious.
BLOCK: This would be a number that would be impossible to verify?
SAIDI: Absolutely impossible.
BLOCK: It is interesting that even with the expanded U.N. peacekeeping force and Lebanese troops now in the south, disarming Hezbollah is still not part of that mission.
SAIDI: Absolutely not. And Nasrallah made this very clear in his speech. I mean, the reason he talked about the 20,000 rockets was he was telling the West that they have not been able to make an impact on Hezbollah's armory and he told UNIFIL that if their mission, which should be to defend Lebanon, became a mission to spy on Hezbollah, then this could cause problems.
BLOCK: I suppose symbolically it's important, just the fact that Nasrallah is alive and speaking has resonance on its own.
SAIDI: Absolutely. This was basically telling the Israelis I'm alive. I came out here despite everything you said, despite saying that you're going to kill me. I'm here.
BLOCK: Leena Saidi, thanks very much.
SAIDI: You're welcome.
BLOCK: Reporter Leena Saidi, speaking with us from Beirut.
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, had this response today to Nasrallah's speech. He said, quote, “the international community can't afford to have this Iranian funded extremist spit in the face of the organized community of nations.”