BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah's leader on Saturday threatened more attacks on central Israeli cities, a day after guerrillas for the first time fired a rocket powerful enough to reach the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, speaking on Hezbollah's TV station, said he supported Lebanon's efforts to negotiate a peace deal, but suggested tentative promises for the guerrillas to disarm would be off if conditions aren't met.
Nasrallah also dismissed a new diplomatic effort by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bring about cease-fire, saying the United States wants fighting to continue. His statement came as Rice arrived in the Mideast to visit Israel; a possible Lebanon stop has not been announced.
The bearded Shiite Muslim cleric, wearing his trademark black headdress, insisted Hezbollah fighters were winning the battle with Israel, now in its 18th day. Israel has not made a "single military accomplishment" in its offensive on Lebanon, he said, speaking on the group's Al-Manar television.
He claimed Israel suffered a "serious defeat" in ground fighting around a Lebanese border town after Israeli troops pulled back Saturday afternoon. Israel said they left Bint Jbail because they accomplished their mission of wearing down Hezbollah fighters after a week of heavy battles.
On Friday, a Hezbollah rocket hit outside the Israeli town of Afula, the farthest strike yet. Hezbollah said it targeted an Israeli military base, but the rockets fell in an empty field.
"The bombardment of Afula and its military base is the beginning ..., Nasrallah said. "Many cities in the center (of Israel) will be targeted in the 'beyond Haifa' stage if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages."
He was referring to his earlier threat to attack deeper into Israel than Haifa, which has been hit repeatedly in the recent conflict.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was willing to cooperate with the Lebanese government. He did not mention a Lebanese peace plan calling for guerrilla disarmament specifically, but suggested Hezbollah would not disarm if the government backs away from conditions outlined in its proposal.
Most notably, the proposals demand a prisoner swap with Israel and the resolution of Lebanese claims on border land that Israel controls. Israel has ruled out a prisoner swap but has not said whether it would be willing to reconsider its hold on the Chebaa farms area.
The speech was Nasrallah's fourth taped TV appearance since fighting began, sparked by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers July 12.
In Beirut, drivers stopped their cars and pedestrians stood in front of shops and cafes to watch the address. Fireworks erupted in the southern neighborhoods of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, after Nasrallah finished.
His speech was picked up live by Israel TV's Channel 2, with instant translation into Hebrew.