Ahmadinejad makes first state visit to Lebanon

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Beirut for his first state visit to Lebanon Wednesday, CNN reports. Ahmadinejad was greeted at the airport by members of parliament, government officials and Hezbollah political leaders. The streets near the airport were packed with people in a festive mood carrying Iranian and Lebanese flags.

The Iranian leader met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at the Presidential Palace here and was scheduled to meet other leaders as well as leaders of Hezbollah’s resistance movement. The United States considers Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran and Syria, to be a terrorist organization. The Shiite group is a political party and a major provider of social services in Lebanon, but it also operates a militant wing. Hezbollah has boasted of numerous attacks against American, Israeli and other Western targets. Some Muslims see it as a heroic organization, successful in its stated objective of driving Israeli forces from Lebanon.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern to Suleiman about Ahmadinejad’s Lebanon visit, according to a State Department spokesman. But in southern Lebanon many were happy that Ahmadinejad was coming.

That could be seen in places like the village of Bint Jbeil that had been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombings during the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. The village is being rebuilt now largely do to money from Iran and Qatar. “What he’s done for this country is amazing, the bridges, the roads, the financial aid. My house burnt down, they paid me an amount for my furniture, they made up for my loss,” said Mohamad Baydoun, a Bint Jbeil resident.

Some experts say Ahmadinejad’s visit is Iran’s way of sending a clear message about its influence in the region, especially to the United States and Israel. The Israeli government has not formally responded to Ahmadinejad’s visit but some say they view it as provocation.

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