The leader of Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, emerged Thursday night from hiding to deny that the command structure of his group had been damaged by an Israeli attack earlier in the day.

Speaking on the Arab satellite television station al-Jazeera, the Hizbollah leader said that a massive Israeli strike on one of Beirut’s southern suburbs, using more than 20 tons of explosives, had not hit its intended target. “I can confirm, without exaggerating or using psychological warfare, that we have not been harmed,” he said.

The Shia fundamentalist group earlier took reporters on a visit to its devastated stronghold of Haret Hreik in south Beirut but did not provide access to the adjacent neighbourhood where Israel said it targeted a “leadership bunker”.

In his interview, Mr Nasrallah ridiculed Israeli claims that it was making headway in its attacks on the military structure of the movement. “All this Israeli talk that they hit 50 per cent of our rocket capabilities and warehouses, this talk is all wrong and nonsense.”

A Lebanese military expert also said he doubted that Israel had made much headway against the group. “Hizbollah has no visible personnel infrastructure on the ground. They are organised in cells, they look like civilians, they move fast and they are trained to hide,” he said.

As for the missiles, the expert, a former Lebanese army officer who wished to remain unnamed, said the longest range rockets were buried in the south and in the eastern Bekaa valley, “so deep that bombs cannot reach them and guarded by suicide commandos”.

The Haret Hreik neighbourhood of Beirut, where many Hizbollah offices were located, has been changed beyond recognition by the bombardments over the past nine days.

The damage was not limited to the intended targets – most of those were destroyed – but the explosions also caused heavy damage to surrounding buildings, with whole facades blown out.

Documents and visiting cards bearing the Hizbollah logo are mixed in with the gravel, twisted metal and splintered wood that litter the roads. Pictures from people’s family albums, showing children playing, weddings and graduation ceremonies, flutter around.

One couple fled the deserted neighbourhood when the impact of more bombs could be heard in the distance. “We escaped after the first day and just came back to see how our house is doing,” the husband said. “It’s not there any more.”

In the south, Hizbollah fighters were engaged in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers on the border for a second day. The group’s spokesman in Beirut said this showed that Israeli claims that only military targets were hit were clearly wrong. “We have no fighters here in Beirut, they are all in the south, on the front.”

Thousands of foreign nationals continued to leave as evacuation efforts were stepped up. Many Lebanese who have to stay behind voiced concern that Israel would step up its attacks once foreigners had left.

On the edge of the bombed-out southern neighbourhoods of Beirut, some Hizbollah supporters have remained. One expressed his pride in the movement. “We are only a small group standing up to a mighty nation. I hope that they will come in with ground troops so that we can face them.”

The Hizbollah supporters seemed to take the destruction in their stride.

“Lebanon will survive and will be stronger and more united because of the war,” said one young man. He considered all the destruction a price worth paying for the capture of the Israeli soldiers who were meant to be exchanged for Lebanese prisoners in Israel

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