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  • Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters through a giant screen during a rally in Beirut

    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters through a giant screen during a rally in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon Feb. 16, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

The people of Lebanon marked the end of 16 years of occupation by Israel, referred to by many in Lebanon as the "Zionist enemy."

Lebanon marked Wednesday the 16th anniversary of Israeli forces withdrawing from southern Lebanon, following years of resistance and struggle by Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah and affiliated groups against the illegal Israeli occupation of the territory.

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Addressing crowds at a celebration in the Bekaa Valley village of Nabi Sheet, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, said Israel is the “greatest threat” to Palestinians and the entire region, calling for “comprehensive resistance” against it.

“on liberation day we should remember the Israeli crimes against the Lebanese and Palestinians. We should remember that the Zionist entity is our enemy,” he told the cowards.

“Our army, our people and our resistance is targeted… we should be aware. We should believe in our capabilities, we can defend our country, we can build our country.”

Israeli occupation forces were forced to withdraw from southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000, after illegally occupying the area for 18 years. The day is dubbed "Resistance and Liberation Day" and is celebrated annually by various groups, political leaders and parties in the small Mediterranean country.

“We strongly appreciate the sacrifices that have been made, and are still being made by the Resistance and its people,” Free Patriotic Movement founder Michel Aoun wrote on Twitter, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

“We bow down in front of every drop of blood that has been shed, and is still being shed, for the liberation and the conservation of this land.”

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei offered an official congratulations to Lebanon and Iran’s ally Hezbollah. “Greetings to the great nation of Lebanon, to victorious Hezbollah, to its valorous, dedicated, Arab leader Hassan Nasrallah,” the top Iranian Imam said on Twitter Wednesday.

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Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 in a bid to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from the southern parts of the country where they were carrying out attacks on Israel.

While the Israeli invasion succeeded in eradicating the PLO’s bases in Lebanon, the occupation continued and fueled an ongoing civil war in the country between various sects and militias.

The south of Lebanon is mainly populated by Shiite Lebanese who after the end of the civil war in 1990 felt ignored by successive governments in Beirut, which was dominated by Sunni and Christian leaders and parties.

The Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon claimed the lives of 559 soldiers during the period from 1985-2000, which was one of the main drivers behind the withdrawal. However, Israel did not completely leave Lebanon as it continues its presence in the Shebaa Farms on the border between Lebanon and Israel.

“In this day we should remember that Shebaa farms and Kfar Shouba hills are still occupied by the Israeli enemy. We should remember that we still have prisoners at Israeli jails and missing people,” Nasrallah stressed.

Hezbollah was formed in 1985 as a Shiite resistance group borne out of repression and defines itself through its fight and struggle against the Israeli occupation.

The group maintains close ties with the Iranian government and have remained a close ally of current Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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