Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hizbullah Chief Echoes Iran's Call for Israel to Disappear

by Mohamad Ali Harissi

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah echoed Iran’s call on Wednesday for Israel to disappear, speaking during a mass rally in Beirut organised in honour of visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“President Ahmadinejad is right when he says Israel is illegitimate and should cease to exist,” Nasrallah told an ecstatic crowd of tens of thousands via video link.

Ahmadinejad, who has called Israel a “tumour,” has denied the Holocaust and repeatedly said the Jewish state is “doomed to be wiped off the map.”

As recently as last month, he said the people of the Middle East are “capable of removing the Zionist regime” from the world scene.

Chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel,” Hezbollah supporters turned out en masse in the southern suburb of Beirut they control to welcome Ahmadinejad, whose country is a major financial, military and ideological supporter of their militant Shiite group.

A beaming Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Lebanon Wednesday morning on a two-day visit, waved at the crowd before taking a seat next to Hezbollah number two Naim Qassem.

The rally was held at an outdoor stadium where Iranian flags and photos of Ahmadinejad were hoisted alongside two life-sized pictures of overturned Israeli Merkava tanks.

A photo of a crying Israeli soldier bearing the message “Israel has fallen” was also on display as video footage of the 2006 war aired on a giant screen.

“Iran is the heartbeat of the resistance,” said Hussein Khawi, 50, who was at the rally. “Israel won’t dare come near south Lebanon anymore.”

Added Hajj Hussein, a 65-year-old Lebanese who resides in Canada: “I came to thank Ahmadinejad for what he offered us.

“Iran stands by us and that means victory is ours.”

Ahmadinejad’s trip is seen as a major boost for Hezbollah but has drawn criticism from members of Lebanon’s pro-Western parliamentary majority who see it as a bid to portray the country as “an Iranian base on the Mediterranean.”

But Nasrallah shot down fears that Iran, which wields considerable political clout in Lebanon through its Shiite proxy, had plans for an Islamic revolution in the tiny Mediterranean country.

“There are those ... who speak of an Iranian project for Palestine, for Lebanon, for the Arab region ... and work to strike fear into governments and peoples,” Nasrallah said.

“What Iran wants for Lebanon is what the Lebanese want. What Iran wants in Palestine is what the Palestinians want. That is the Iranian project.”

The highlight of Ahmadinejad’s trip comes on Thursday when he will be just a few kilometres (miles) away from the Israeli border as he tours southern villages destroyed during the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Iran has been a major donor in the reconstruction of southern Lebanon following the month-long war, and Ahmadinejad is set to receive a hero’s welcome in the area.

But Ahmadinejad’s visit, his first since he was elected in 2005, comes at a sensitive time in politically turbulent Lebanon.

Hezbollah is locked in a standoff with Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri over unconfirmed reports that a UN-backed tribunal is set to indict members of the Shiite militant group over the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Tensions over the tribunal have grown steadily in recent weeks, raising fears of renewed sectarian violence and the collapse of Lebanon’s hard-fought national unity government.

Mohamad Ali Harissi

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