BEIRUT: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday Israel was doomed to perish as he addressed thousands of supporters of Hizbullah at a rally in Bint Jbeil, just four kilometers from the Israeli border.
Ahmadinejad’s tour in south Lebanon drew sharp criticism from the US and Israel as tensions ran high on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Israeli officials have said the tour represented an attempt to set up an advanced front line for a proxy war between Iran and Israel.
“Bint Jbeil is alive and today stands proud and cherished against all enemies whereas the Zionists are mortal after the sons of Bint Jbeil made the enemy taste defeat,” Ahmadinejad said while supporters chanted “death to Israel.”
Bint Jbeil was heavily bombed in the 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
“There is no option before the Zionists but to surrender to facts on the ground or return to their original countries,” Ahmadinejad said.
“Palestine will be liberated through force and the belief of the resistance,” he added.
After praising Lebanon’s resistance and stressing its invincibility in defying Israel and the West, the Iranian president said the Islamic Republic would stand by the side of the Lebanese people in all circumstances.
“You proved that your resistance, your patience, your steadfastness, was stronger than all the tanks and warplanes of the enemy,” Ahmadinejad said.
Following his speech in Bint Jbeil, Ahmadinejad went to Qana, which was targeted by Israeli bombing that killed 105 civilians who had sought shelter at a UN base in 1996 during the “Grapes of Wrath” offensive on Lebanon.
Ahmadinejad in Qana hailed the Lebanese Army for challenging the “giant Israeli army” and laid a wreath at a memorial for victims of the bombing of the UN shelter.
“Qana’s martyrs are alive and its enemies are dead,” he said in homage of those slain in the attack.
Earlier Thursday, US and Israeli officials described the visit as provocative, with Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor saying it was “like a landlord visiting his domain.”
Ahmadinejad’s supportive visit of Hizbullah comes at a time when Sunni-Shiite tensions are running high over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating former Premier Rafik Hariri’s 2005 murder as media reports said the court’s indictment is set to implicate Hizbullah members in the assassination.
Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi said Ahmadinejad addressed the issue of the STL with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain premier, during closed-door talks earlier Thursday.
The talks were followed by an honorary lunch banquet hosted by Hariri and joined by President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri.
Roknabadi said Ahmadinejad’s talks with Hariri tackled disputed issues, including the STL and its impending indictment, and stressed that the Iranian president was pursuing efforts to preserve Lebanon’s stability.
However, Roknabadi denied that Iran was in the process of mediating efforts to resolve controversies over the STL while underscoring that the UN-backed tribunal was Lebanese affair that Iran would not interfere with.
In a supportive public stance of Hizbullah in anticipation of the STL’s indictment, Ahmadinejad defended Wednesday his “friend” Hizbullah against “fabricated news” accusing it of the murder of a “friend and patriotic man,” a reference to former Premier Hariri.
Following his tour in the south, the Iranian president returned to Baabda Presidential Palace to bid farewell his Lebanese counterpart before leaving for Tehran.