Tens of thousands of people gathered at a soccer field in southern Beirut, Wednesday, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a rally for the militant group Hezbollah.Supporters cheered and waved flags as Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke in the stronghold area for the Iranian-backed group. Mr. Ahmadinejad criticized Israel, accusing the Jewish state of violating Palestinian rights by carrying out indiscriminate killings and attacking aid convoys in international waters. He also called Lebanon a “school” of resistance against, in his words, the world’s “tyrants.”Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd via video link. The French News Agency (AFP) says he voiced support for the Iranian leader’s assertion that Israel is “illegitimate” and should cease to exist.Earlier Wednesday, thousands of Lebanese lined the street to welcome Mr. Ahmadinejad’s arrival, his first visit to Lebanon since taking office in 2005.The United States criticized the controversial visit that widened a political divide in Lebanon. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the trip shows the Iranian leader is continuing his “provocative ways” as he leads his country into more economic distress as a result of international sanctions.
The Iranian president has called frequently for Israel’s destruction. Israel accuses the Iranian government of trying to develop nuclear weapons and views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad praised Lebanon for what he called its “resistance” to Israel. During a news conference with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, he also called for an end to what he characterized as Israel’s “occupation” of Lebanese and Palestinian lands.
Mr. Suleiman called for strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries. Iran is a major donor country to Lebanon and is expected to invest $450 million into Lebanon’s energy and water sectors.Some members of Lebanon’s pro-Western parliamentary majority have criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Hezbollah and accused him of portraying Lebanon as “an Iranian base on the Mediterranean.”On Thursday, Mr. Ahmadinejad tours southern Lebanon, where he will inspect villages damaged in Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. He is expected to visit a border area where Hezbollah supporters throw stones toward the Israeli side – Voanews