Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in the southern Lebanon city of Bint Jbeil Thursday, where he attended a mass rally held in honor. Thousands awaited the Iranian leader for an event marking the height of his second day in Lebanon.
Ahmadinejad began his speech by hailing the Lebanese people as "the defenders of human dignity": "The Lord blesses the people of Lebanon, its young sons devoted to Jihad and you – who seek justice and truth. You stood in the forefront of the battle against the aggressors and occupiers and defended Lebanon's security," he said.
"I thank you for your courage and for besting swords and tanks with your determination and willpower. You have proven that the Lebanese nation and its resistance are more powerful than the swords of Zionists," he continued.
The Iranian president said that "Lebanon, in its resistance sets an example for all nations in the region. Resistance is the key to the victory of Lebanese people and other nations."
Ahmadinejad further added, "All the people of Lebanon, members of various religions and factions, fight the same campaign against enemies who are terrified of Lebanon's resistance and unity."
He also addressed the Second Lebanon War and battles fought in Bint Jbeil. "Bint Jbeil is the capital of freedom, resistance and victory. The Zionists invaded here in an attempt to break resistance, but they are no longer here – and Bint Jbeil is alive and well and will continue to stand tall in the face of enemies."
As for Israel's future, Ahmadinejad stated that "the world should know that eventually the Zionists will be forced to go and will not last long. They are enemies of humanity and will have no choice but to surrender. Palestine will be liberated through the force of faith," he said.
'West abusing nuclear power'
Earlier, Hezbollah supporters used mosque loudspeakers Thursday to rally crowds ahead of a trip by Iran's president to southern Lebanon near the border with Israel, a visit the US and Israel have called intentionally provocative.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to a rapturous welcome organized by Hezbollah. His country is the main patron of the Shiite militant group, the most powerful military force in Lebanon.
On Thursday, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to make a trip to the Shiite heartland in the south and the Israeli border, which will emphasize Iran's support for Hezbollah's fight with Israel.
In the morning hours he visited the state-run Lebanese University, where he received an honorary doctorate.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad said nuclear power can "benefit humanity. It can be used in at least 16 different fields, such as medicine, industry and agriculture. But what are they (US) doing with it? You know very well. They made a nuclear bomb, but on the other hand prevented this possibility from other nations.
"As for us (Iran), we met with the Europeans. The European side stressed that maybe in another 10 years they'll agree that we learn this technology. But at the same time they are using this technology for their own purposes," he said.
Ahmadinejad receives honorary doctorate (Photo: Press.tv)
Ahmadinejad added, "If Lebanon had two or three nuclear power plants, the energy costs in Lebanon would be one-seventh of what they are now. Today, to advance nuclear energy in Lebanon, you need the West's approval. The West wants a monopoly on this technology."
The Iranian leader continued to attack the West, saying, "What did they do in Afghanistan? They conquered it in a few days, and look what they've done in the nine years since then. Did you the see the American forces kill 100 people at an Afghan wedding? They said, 'There were terrorists there.' They bombed an entire village. We asked: Why? They said, 'There were terrorists there.'"
'Not greeted out of love'
Residents of southern Lebanese villages were heading to Bint Jbeil, a border village that was bombed during the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, to greet the Iranian president Thursday afternoon. The village, barely two and a half miles (four kilometers) from the border, is dubbed "the capital of resistance" because it was a center for Hezbollah guerrilla action against Israel during the Jewish state's 18-year occupation of the south, which ended in 2000.
Many students in the south skipped school Thursday to await Ahmadinejad.
According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, support for Ahmadinejad in south Lebanon is not as strong as it seems. "The Iranian president invested a fortune in Lebanon. However, his millions were not invested in education or welfare for the residents of Lebanon, but in the armament of Hezbollah and bolstering (Secretary-General Hassan) Nasrallah's rule in Lebanon.
"Make no mistake. Most of the residents we see on TV did not come to greet Ahmadinejad out of love; they were forced to do so, because those are the rules of Ahmadinejad's game; he came to promote his interests at the expense of the Lebanese citizens," he said.
During a mass rally organized in is honor by Hezbollah at the Dahiya quarter of Beirut on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said, "I come from the land of the Imam Khomeini, bearing the best wishes of the Iranian people and its leaders. Lebanon is an example and school for unwavering resistance to the world's tyrants and a university for Jihad. Visiting Lebanon and meeting the leaders is a dream come true for me."
Ahmadinejad's trip has underscored the eroding position of pro-Western factions in Lebanon. More broadly, it suggested that the competition over influence in Lebanon may be tipping toward Iran and its ally Syria, away from the United States and it Arab allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
His arrival also exacerbated fears among many Lebanese - particularly Sunnis and Christians - that Iran and Hezbollah are seeking to impose their will on the country and possibly pull Lebanon into a conflict with Israel. Many say the trip could aggravate tensions in a country with a long history of sectarian strife.
Dudi Cohen contributed to the report
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