15 Oct 2010

Ahmadinejad welcomed in southern Lebanon

4:35 pm on 15 October 2010

President Ahmed Ahmadinejad of Iran has received an extraordinary welcome from Shi'ite Muslims in southern Lebanon.

He is on his first state visit to Lebanon since becoming president five years ago.

In what Israel sees as a highly provocative move, he visited southern towns along the Israeli border, which are stronghold of Hizbollah.

Tens of thousands of people waved Iranian, Lebanese and Hizbollah flags as he spoke in a stadium in Bint Jbeil.

The BBC reports they cheered as he praised what he called Lebanon's resistance to Israel.

"You are a solid mountain. We are proud of you and will remain forever forever by your side," he told the crowd.

To thunderous applause he denounced the "Zionist regime" of Israel and said Israel would "disappear".

"The occupying Zionists today have no choice but to accept reality and go back to their countries of origin."

At the entrance to Bint Jbeil a giant banner read "welcome" in Farsi and Arabic.

Signs and billboards said: "The south welcomes the protector of the resistance."

The BBC reports Iran contributed heavily to the cost of rebuilding villages destroyed in the south during the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah.

Motorcade procession

Mr Ahmadinejad also visited Qana, the site of deadly Israeli air strikes in 1996 and 2006.

He visited graves of the victims and later laid a wreath at a memorial.

On Wednesday, Mr Ahmadinejad's motorcade was showered with rice and flowers on its way from Beirut airport to the presidential palace.