Iran leader in thank you to Hezbollah for proud struggle
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the doorstep of his arch-enemy Israel yesterday.
In a typically fiery speech, he told Hezbollah supporters in a Lebanese border town that he was proud of their struggle as Israeli helicopters buzzed the skies along the frontier.
The US and Israel have called Mr Ahmadinejad's visit a provocation that undermined Lebanon's sovereignty.
Iran, whose ties to Hezbollah date back nearly 30 years, backs the militant group financially and is believed to supply much of its arsenal.
Hezbollah boasts widespread support among Shi'ites and virtually runs a state-within-a-state in Shi'ite areas of Lebanon.
"You proved that your resistance, your patience, your steadfastness, were stronger than all the tanks and warplanes of the enemy," Mr Ahmadinejad said at the rally in Bint Jbeil, four kilometres from the border.
"The people of Iran will remain by your side, and all the people in this region," he added.
Two Israeli attack helicopters reportedly hovered above the Israeli border town of Moshav Avivim. But otherwise, an Israeli military presence near the town appeared minimal. The military declined comment.
The Iranian leader arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to a rapturous welcome organised by Hezbollah for his first state visit to Beirut.
But his splashy arrival exacerbated fears among many Lebanese -- particularly Sunnis and Christians -- that Iran and Hezbollah were seeking to impose their will on the country and possibly pull Lebanon into a conflict with Israel.
Earlier yesterday, schoolchildren handed out leaflets on the best route to Bint Jbeil, which carries special significance in Lebanon.
The village was among the hardest-hit areas during the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, and oil-rich Iran invested heavily in helping to rebuild it.