Beirut - Hezbollahinfo-icon leader Hassan Nasrallahinfo-icon has promised to target USinfo-icon forces in the region in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian and Iraqi commanders in a United Statesinfo-icon drone attack earlier this week.

On Friday, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, an elite branch of Iraninfo-icon's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces were killed in Baghdadinfo-icon drone attack ordered by President Trumpinfo-icon.

"It is the American military who killed them and it is them who will pay the price," Nasrallah said during a speech broadcast to a large crowd in Beirut's southern suburbs, a support base of the Iran-backed group in Lebanoninfo-icon.

Nasrallah said the response to the assassination of General Soleimani was not only Iran's responsibility, but also that of the entire axis of resistance.

Nasrallah added that attacks on US military forces in the Middle Eastinfo-icon will be "fair punishment" for the crime, listing US bases, naval ships and military personnel.

The Hezbollah chief further noted that US act of terror marks the start of a new phase for the entire Middle East.

He said targets include "US military bases, soldiers, officers and warships".The Hezbollah leader's voice was drowned out by chants of: "Death to Americainfo-icon" as thousands of flag-waving supporters clad in black jumped to their feet and pumped their fists.

Nasrallah then added that civilians should not be singled out."Touching any civilian anywhere in the worldinfo-icon would only serve [US President Donald] Trump's policies," he said. But once Trump sees "the coffins of American soldiers and officers begin to return home" he would realise that "he has lost the region", Nasrallah added.



Hezbollah leader added that the two top military commanders attained their ultimate goals by embracing martyrdom, extending his deepest condolences to their families.

"The martyrdom of General Soleimani and Muhandis marks another victory of blood over sword," Nasrallah said.

Warned Soleimani of assassination threat

Nasrallah said he had warned General Soleimani of the risk of assassination and met him in the Lebanese capital Beirut on New Year's Day before he was killed in a U.S. attack in Baghdad.

"I told him ... there is great focus on you in the American mediainfo-icon, press and magazines and they're printing your pictures on the front page as 'the irreplaceable general', this is media and political priming for your assassination," Nasrallah said.

"Of course he laughed and told me, I hope so, pray for me."

Direct confrontation

Analysts say Nasrallah's stance begins a new period of escalation and direct confrontation between Iran-backed militias in the region known as the "Resistance Axis" and the US military."The Americans have started a new kind of conflictinfo-icon that will last years," Al Jazeera quoted Karim Makdisi, Chair of the Public Policy and International Affairs program at the American University off Beirut, saying.

"There is now a clear, open mission for the Resistance Axis: Removal of all US bases from the region. Whether they can do that or not is a different question," he added.The scale of the regional response to Soleimani's killing stems from his distinct role as a link between resistance groups in the region, a role that saw him regularly shuttling between Beirut, Damascus and Tehraninfo-icon.

Soleimani's special role, Nasrallah said during his speech, meant that his killing had to be viewed as an attack on the Resistance Axis as a whole, rather than just on Iran."Its a moment of 'you've declared warinfo-icon on us directly, not via Israelinfo-icon or another proxy'," Makdisi said.

"So let's cut out the middle man. They are not thinking in terms of Iraqinfo-icon or Syriainfo-icon or Lebanon. It is one nation that stretches a vast distance and needs to be liberated from American military occupation."Shortly after Nasrallah's speech ended, Iraq's Parliament ratified a non-binding decision to end the presence of all foreign troops in the country, a motion clearly aimed at the US forces.

Though largely symbolic, Makdisi said the decision put US legitimacy in the region on shakier ground."The US was never welcome in Syria and now its situation in Iraq is becoming more untenable," he said.