Ahmadinejad mocks Israel, praises Lebanon during Syria visit

1142.jpgIranian President Mamoud Ahmadinejad mocked Israel and called for Lebanese unity during meetings in Damascus Thursday with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad and Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.Ahmadinejad and Assad met privately soon after the Iranian president arrived in the Syrian capital mid-afternoon at the start of a two-day visit, state news agency SANA reported. Officials from both sides then joined the talks.

Afterwards, the two leaders issued a joint statement saying that it “is necessary to consolidate national unity and harmony among all Lebanese to assure the stability and security of Lebanon”. They expressed their “support for all decisions taken by all Lebanese”, and called on the international community to help “stop repeated Zionist aggression against Lebanese sovereignty”. The statement also said Iran expressed support for the Syrian people’s “right” to recover the occupied Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that the Jewish state captured during the 1967 war and unilaterally annexed in 1981.

Assad and Ahmadinejad also expressed their support for the government of Iraq, its unity and independence, and demanded the “departure of forces occupying Iraq”, the statement said.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Ahmadinejad had later Thursday held talks with Nasrallah in Damascus, telling him that Israel was “becoming weaker every day”. “Today, the inner calm in Lebanese society is something that gives hope while the Zionist regime is becoming weaker every day,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Nasrallah.

Syria was the power broker in Lebanon until two years ago, when it was forced by an international outcry to withdraw its troops from the country following the assassination of anti-Syrian former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

Since then, Lebanon has lurched from one political crisis to another, pitting pro- and anti-Syrian forces against each other.

The statement also referred to the “right of the Lebanese people to resist repeated Israeli aggressions … and to recover land occupied” by Israel, calling on the international community to force a halt to those alleged aggressions.

Israel ended its decades-long occupation of southern Lebanon seven years ago, but still holds on to a small sliver of land it captured from Syria in 1967 and which Lebanon now claims with Damascus’ approval.

Last summer, Lebanon was devastated when Israel launched an assault on the country after fighters from the Shiite movement Hizbollah, backed by both Syria and Iran, captured two Israeli soldiers.

The Iranian president also held a meeting Thursday with a delegation from Hamas led by Khaled Mishaal, its exiled head in Damascus, a senior Palestinian official told AFP.

The meeting came a month after the Islamists seized control of Gaza after routing rival Fatah forces and effectively dividing the Palestinian territories.

In their joint statement, the two presidents had urged “all Palestinian parties to resume dialogue … to preserve the unity of the Palestinian people.” Ahmadinejad said the trip, which comes just two days after Assad was sworn in for a second seven-year term, is aimed at reinforcing the burgeoning ties between the two US foes.

“Relations between Syria and Iran have always been expanding and we have common views on bilateral regional and international issues,” he said before leaving Tehran, adding that the focus would be on boosting economic ties.

The fact that Ahmadinejad’s visit — his second to Damascus since becoming president in 2005 — comes so soon after Assad’s re-election will be seen as a clear sign of the value of the relationship to both sides.

The strength of their ties is viewed with the deepest suspicion in Washington, which blames Tehran and Damascus for much of the instability dogging the Middle East region.

Washington accuses the two countries of helping stir up insecurity in Iraq by supporting insurgents and of fomenting the violence that has plagued Lebanon since the assassination of Hariri.

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