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Nasrallah: Soldiers' abductions a mistake

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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Had Hezbollah known how Israel was going to respond, the group would not have captured two Israeli soldiers last month in northern Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday.

But, in an interview with Lebanon's New TV, Nasrallah also said the war would have happened anyway -- a few months later.

He insisted, without offering evidence, that Israel had been planning to launch military action in October, and the July raid by Hezbollah merely moved up the Israelis' timetable.

In a raid into Israel on July 12, Hezbollah militants killed three Israeli soldiers and abducted two others.

That attack sparked a response that the Israelis said was intended to target Hezbollah militants, but which resulted in the killing of more than 1,000 Lebanese -- most of them civilians -- and the widespread destruction of the country's infrastructure. The death toll among Israelis was 159, including 41 civilians.

If someone had said July 11 that there was "a one percent possibility" Israel's military response would be as extensive as it turned out to be, "I would say no, I would not have entered this for many reasons -- military, social, political, economic," said Nasrallah, speaking in Arabic.

Not even the families of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel would have wanted to bring on such action, he said.

"If there was a one percent possibility, we would not have done that. We would not have done any capturing."

But, he added, "If we hadn't captured those soldiers, the war would have come in October anyway." Hezbollah's raid drew Israeli action sooner and "deprived the Israelis of the element of surprise," he said.

"The Israelis wanted to begin this war," Nasrallah said, calling it "an American decision" with "many European countries" involved. He insisted Israel was looking for "an Arab cover."

When Israel launched major military action after the raid, it cited the kidnappings and months of sporadic rocket attacks by Hezbollah into northern Israel.

In an interview Sunday that lasted more than 80 minutes, Nasrallah again declared "victory" in the monthlong war with Israel.

He called it a "bigger" victory than Hezbollah had achieved in 2000, when Israel withdrew after 18 years in Lebanon -- and many throughout the Arab world credited Hezbollah's resistance efforts.

After 2000, questions remained as to whether Hezbollah could resist Israel if it chose to re-enter southern Lebanon, he said. The fact that the group withstood Israel's military onslaught, he argued, represented "a huge victory."

Nasrallah expressed no regret for the deaths of Israeli civilians, saying Lebanon was the victim of Israeli aggression.

He said he did not expect major fighting to re-emerge soon, saying indications were that Israel was not gearing up for such action.

Nasrallah also said negotiations aimed at prisoner swaps had begun, with Nabih Berri -- a Lebanese parliamentarian who frequently serves as a go-between with Hezbollah -- as the group's negotiator.

Despite Israel's reports that many Hezbollah fighters and officials were captured or killed, Nasrallah said, "the public leadership of Hezbollah -- they're all well, thank God. If the war had happened in October, it would not be like that."

The U.N. cease-fire resolution that ended the war calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed south of the Litani River. It is unclear whether Hezbollah -- which calls for Israel's destruction -- will comply. Nasrallah gave no indication.

But he said U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who is working to implement the resolution, "serves the Israelis first and foremost."

Roed-Larsen has said he seeks the U.N. goal of peace for both Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah is listed by the United States and Israel as a terrorist organization. It has been linked to attacks against U.S. and other Western targets, including the 1983 bombings of U.S. Marine barracks that killed 241 and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 95.

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