Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has praised what he called Lebanon's resistance to Israel, telling tens of thousands of supporters at a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon that they occupy a "capital of resistance and victory" over the Jewish state.
Speaking during a Hezbollah rally Thursday in the village of Bint Jbeil, about four kilometers from Lebanon's tense border with Israel, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared "the Zionists will perish." He predicted that Israel would disappear while the residents of Bint Jbeil would thrive.
Cheering supporters waved large Iranian and Lebanese flags and the yellow and green flag of the militant, Iranian-backed Hezbollah faction. News reports say Israeli helicopters buzzed on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border as he spoke.
In a symbolic move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the coastal city of Tel Aviv where Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the state's creation in 1948. Mr. Netanyahu declared Thursday that the very existence of Israel discredited those seeking to destroy it.
Spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Mark Regev told VOA Mr. Ahmadinejad's visit shows Lebanon to be a "client state of Iran." The spokesman said Lebanon could be a potential partner for peace, but instead is a "hub for regional terrorism, extremism and instability."
Bint Jbeil was badly damaged during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah. Iranian money helped rebuild parts of the area destroyed during the conflict.
Later Thursday, Mr. Ahmadinejad visited a memorial in the Lebanese town of Qana, the site of a 1996 Israeli attack that killed more than 100 civilians at a U.N. compound. Israel said the attack occurred because of "incorrect targeting based on erroneous data."
On Wednesday, the Iranian leader was greeted by thousands of supporters in Beirut at the start of his first state visit to Lebanon since taking office in 2005. Speaking at Hezbollah rally, the Iranian president accused Israel of violating Palestinian rights. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, appearing by video link, welcomed Mr. Ahmadinejad's assertion that Israel is "illegitimate" and should cease to exist.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described Mr. Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon, and particularly his trips to Hezbollah strongholds in the country, as a "volatile situation." The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.