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Ahmadinejad, near Israel's border, slams the Jewish state

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Ahmadinejad visits Hezbollah strongholds
  • NEW: Hezbollah official meets with Iranian leader
  • Ahmadinejad delivers remarks near Israeli border
  • It is his first state visit to Lebanon
  • He also slams the West in other remarks

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled Thursday to the always tense Lebanese border with Israel, showered praise on Lebanon's unity and cranked up his trademark fiery rhetoric against his nemesis -- the Jewish state.

Ahmadinejad, making his first state visit to Lebanon, delivered a speech to the people of Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold that endured much violence during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

The Iranian president, who regularly and bluntly delivers strong rhetoric against Israel and Zionism, said the "world must know the Zionists are to be gone" and the "people of Bint Jbeil have made the Zionists taste the bitter taste of defeat."

He added that the lack of hope allowed Israel by the Lebanese means the "Zionists have no choice but to submit to the will of the people and to return to their first homes."

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"You showed that the will of the Lebanese nation and Lebanon's resistance is sharper than the swords of the Zionists," he said.

The crowd showed up hours before the speech. Men, women and children of all ages waved Iranian and Lebanese flags in Bint Jbeil's elaborately decorated stadium. Fathers carried their young sons, and the bleachers were filled with Hezbollah boy scouts in sparkling clean uniforms.

A sign leading into Bint Jbeil declared it the "Capital of the Liberation," referring to 2000, when Israeli and Hezbollah fighters clashed in pitched battles in its streets.

Zionists have no choice but to submit to the will of the people and to return to their first homes.
--President Ahmadinejad
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Lebanon

Ahmadinejad's speech was in the same stadium where Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivered his victory speech after Israeli troops withdrew from most occupied Lebanese lands in 2000.

The reclusive Nasrallah met Thursday with Ahmadinejad at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, Iran's official news agency said.

"Nasrallah presented Ahmadinejad with a weapon that had been taken by a member of Lebanon's Islamic Resistance from the Israeli military personnel," IRNA said.

Residents say 90 percent of the buildings in Bint Jbeil were destroyed by the heavy Israeli bombardment in 2006. Now mostly rebuilt, those around the stadium provided an additional vantage point as people climbed onto rooftops and balconies. Some buildings, however, still were pocked with bullet holes and other scars of war.

Overhead, Lebanese army aircraft provided additional security, dodging hundreds of red, white and green balloons released into the clear blue sky. Some young children, unable to get inside the stadium, watched the video at the media's satellite trucks parked outside.

The crowd roared as the Iranian president entered, nearly pushing through the barrier as security officials struggled to keep them back. Around Bint Jbeil they consider Ahmadinejad a hero, the man whose country stands behind them in the ongoing battle with Israel.

After the 2006 war, Iran injected cash into Hezbollah's coffers, which was handed out by the bundles and used to pave roads and build bridges. Without Iranian aid, they say, they could not have recovered so fast.

At least eight Israeli soldiers and dozens of Hezbollah fighters were killed in heavy fighting around the area as Hezbollah fighters pushed back in the violence that began in July 2006, when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

A U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal eventually called for Israeli troops to withdraw from southern Lebanon and for Lebanese army troops to deploy south of the Litani River.

Ahmadinejad called Bint Jbeil the capital of "freedom," "resistance" and "victory."

"The world must know the Zionists one day will come to break the resistance of nations here," but he asked, "Today where are they now and where is Bint Jbeil?"

"I declare it is alive and will stand firm," he said. "They must know Bint Jbeil is holding its head up and will stand until the end against enemies."

Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite group with links to Iran. It has its share of backers and detractors in the religiously diverse country, where Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Druze co-exist.

The United States lists the group as a foreign terrorist organization known or suspected to have been involved with several anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli terror strikes, the State Department said.

Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, said Thursday that "Iran's domination of Lebanon, through its proxy Hezbollah, has prevented Lebanon from being a partner in peace and turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and a hub of regional terror and instability."

Earlier Thursday, Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the Lebanese University in Beirut in which he charged that Western countries are trying to dominate the region.

"What have the Western countries done in Afghanistan?" the Iranian president asked. "Ask them where are those terrorists, where in Afghanistan are they hiding? Everything has been ambiguous. But through propaganda and through the media, they have portrayed themselves as liberators."

CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this report.