Hezbollah supporters hold a Hezbollah flag
Hezbollah supporters hold a Hezbollah flagReuters

The Hezbollah group on Wednesday denied quotes in a Lebanese newspaper attributed to its second-in-command Sheikh Naim Qassem saying it had become "an army", AFP reports.

"Hezbollah's press bureau wishes to clarify that what was published Wednesday in the As-Safir newspaper did not appear in the text delivered by the deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah," the group said in a statement quoted by the news agency.

The denial came after the newspaper quoted Qassem as saying in an address: "We now have a trained army and the Resistance (Hezbollah) does not need to rely on guerrilla tactics."

As-Safir's article came after images shared widely on social media showed Hezbollah conducting a military parade in Syria, where it is fighting to bolster President Bashar Al-Assad's forces and has incurred heavy losses.

The images provoked controversy in Lebanon, where the Shiite group is a divisive force, as well as concern from Washington, where Hezbollah is blacklisted as a terrorist group.

The group said its denial also invalidated a previous "clarification" in which its press office told AFP that Qassem's quote was in fact: "We have become more than a guerrilla movement but less than an army."

Hezbollah staged the military parade in the town of Qusayr, which it retook the town from Syrian rebels in 2013 in its first major victory after it intervened in support of Assad's regime earlier that year.

Photos of tanks, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft batteries displaying the Shiite movement's yellow flag have appeared on social media in recent days.

The Unites States designated Hezbollah a terrorist group in 1995, accusing it of a long list of attacks including the bombing of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.

Over the years, Washington has regularly sanctioned members of Hezbollah as well as financiers of the group.

In the past American sanctions were imposed on the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and two other members of the organization, for their alleged role in aiding the Syrian government in its crackdown on opposition forces.

Last December, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would enhance sanctions against Hezbollah and its supporters.

Washington supplies equipment to Lebanon's army and a State Department spokeswoman said this week that the U.S. would be "gravely concerned" if it ended up in Hezbollah's hands.

Regardless of how Hezbollah views itself and its military capabilities, many countries distinguish between the group’s political arm, which has huge leverage in the Lebanese parliament, and its “military wing”.

In 2013, the European Union blacklisted Hezbollah's “military wing” as a terrorist organization, while failing to blacklist the group’s political arm.

In contrast, several Arab countries have blacklisted the Hezbollah organization in its entirety. Bahrain in April of 2013 became the first Arab country to blacklist the group as a terrorist organization.

Earlier this year, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) designated the Shiite movement for its "terrorist acts and incitement in Syria, Yemen and in Iraq".

Members of Congress in the United States have urged the EU to designate all branches of Hezbollah as a terror group – a demand which makes sense given that Hezbollah parliamentarians have been caught on camera calling for terror against Israelis.