- Iran - Israel - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ahmadinejad speaks to pro-Hezbollah rally on Israeli border
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a two-day trip to Lebanon, arrived to a hero's welcome on Thursday in Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold close to the border with Israel.
AFP - A frenzied crowd of several thousand people on Thursday welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in southern Lebanon not far from the border of his arch-foe Israel.
Men and women were crammed into separate sections in a stadium in the village of Bint Jbeil where loudspeakers blared out messages in several languages amid a carnival-like atmosphere.
"Ahmadinejad is going to terrify the Israelis," said Nabila, who had waited for the president in Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah bastion where the hardliner addressed the ecstatic crowd.
"We hope to see (Hezbollah chief Hassan) Nasrallah with him here and to see them both one day on the other side of the border," added the 36-year-old who declined to give her last name.
The main square in the village, destroyed by Israeli strikes in the Jewish state's 2006 war with Hezbollah, was festooned with banners hailing Iran's assistance in rebuilding roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.
Pictures of overturned Israeli tanks and weeping Israeli soldiers were also posted at the entrance to Bint Jbeil.
Roads across the south were laced with Iranian flags and a giant picture of Ahmadinejad bearing the message "We Can" was hoisted at an Iranian-built park in the hilltop border village of Marun al-Ras, facing Israel.
Business was booming for vendors who sold pins, scarves, key chains and flags bearing pictures of Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, whose Shiite party is allied with Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad is scheduled later on Thursday to visit Qana, which has earned a grim place in history after being targeted by Israeli shelling in 1996 that killed 105 civilians who had sought shelter in a UN base during the Jewish state's "Grapes of Wrath" offensive on Lebanon.
The village was again the site of tragedy when a shelter collapsed on dozens of residents, including disabled children, during Israeli strikes at the height of the month-long 2006 summer war with Hezbollah.
The roads leading to Qana were lined with tanks, stationed beneath Iranian and Lebanese flags and banners welcoming Ahmadinejad to "the land of the resistance."
Jamili Ismael, a survivor of the 1996 strikes, sat in the village square on Thursday afternoon with pictures of Qana victims displayed on her clothing.
"Nineteen of my family members died in the massacre along with my own husband," the veiled 36-year-old told AFP.
"The blue helmets of the United Nations may try to protect us but Israel does not care for anyone," she said, weeping. "It killed children and women in two massacres in Qana.
"Today, I feel that a man is here who is strong enough to retrieve our rights in the face of the Israeli enemy."
Mohammed Burji, 20, was to helping organise the crowds of thousands flocking to Qana from across south Lebanon.
"I lost my mother and father in the Qana massacre of 1996, during the 'Grapes of Wrath'," Burji said.
"My two sisters and myself were in the tent next to the one in which my parents were killed," he added.
"Today I am a first aid worker to help others, to honour my parents... It is rare to find a man today who stands with the weak in the face of the strong, like Ahmadinejad does."
Heavy security measures were imposed as many Lebanese from across the country journeyed to the region from early morning.
Ahmadinejad's two-day visit, his first to Lebanon since his election in 2005, has underscored Iran's reach into Lebanon through Hezbollah, the most powerful military and political force in the country.
The Lebanese themselves are divided over his trip, with the pro-Western parliamentary majority describing it as an attempt to turn the country into "an Iranian base on the Mediterranean."