BEIRUT (AFP) – The Shiite militant group Hezbollah on Saturday called for a huge turnout to welcome Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he arrives on an official visit to Lebanon next week.
“I urge the Lebanese people and the Palestinians (in refugee camps) to welcome the president of Iran and to take part massively in the events organised for his visit,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a video link to a ceremony.
Ahmadinejad’s October 13-14 visit is eagerly anticipated by Hezbollah, which is planning to give him a huge welcome as well as a tour of villages on the southern border with Israel.
“Ahmadinejad wants to visit Qana to pay homage to the martyrs and Bint Jbeil because of the symbol of resistance it represents,” Nasrallah said.
Qana was the target of deadly Israeli raids in 1996 and also a decade later during the July-August summer war with Hezbollah, while the frontline village of Bint Jbeil saw fierce firefights during the 2006 conflict.
“His programme does not include Mr Ahmadinejad throwing a stone at Israel on the border,” Nasrallah said, denying rumours he might do so.
“If President Ahmadinejad asks my opinion, I shall say: ‘A stone? You are capable of throwing more than a stone’,” at Israel, Nasrallah added to applause.
Israel has accused the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah of stockpiling sophisticated weaponry in anticipation of another conflict with the Jewish state.
Nasrallah thanked Iran for its “moral and political” support, as well as the “enormous sums” Tehran spent on reconstruction projects after the 2006 war.
Ahmadinejad’s trip has sparked controversy with some members of Lebanon’s pro-Western parliamentary majority calling it a provocation and the United States also expressing concern.
Both Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are set to appear together at a rally in a stadium in Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold.
The leader of Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by Washington, had lived in hiding and last appeared in person in July 2008 until Friday, when he planted a tree outside his home in southern Beirut.
The building was destroyed by air raids in 2006.
Nasrallah has been Israel’s public enemy number one since his group fought the deadly month-long conflict.
Al-Manar, the Hezbollah television channel, also transmitted a spot addressed to “supporters of the resistance” and urging a huge turnout to welcome “our brother” Ahmadinejad.
“We call on you to welcome President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday at 7:30 am (0430 GMT) all along the airport road,” the group’s Al-Manar television broadcast over a picture of a smiling Iranian leader.
“Lebanon is the country of resistance — welcome to your family,” the voice-over said.
The television spot was signed by both Hezbollah and Amal, another Lebanese Shiite party allied to the “party of God.”
During his visit, his first to Lebanon since his election in 2005, Ahmadinejad is due to meet President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
Ahmadinejad is “the guest of the president and of Lebanon. He is not coming at Hezbollah’s invitation, or that of a particular community,” Nasrallah said of the Shiite community.
The visit comes at a time of simmering tension, with Hezbollah accusing security officials, MPs and judges close to Hariri of inciting people to bear “false witness” in the UN tribunal into the 2005 murder of Rafik Hariri, the premier’s father.
“We demand that these false witnesses be brought to justice, but the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is protecting them,” Nasrallah said.
There have been unconfirmed reports the tribunal is set to charge members of Hezbollah in connection with Hariri’s murder.
In another sign of sensitivity over the visit, Lebanese censors have asked a film festival to postpone screening the documentary “Green Days” about Iranian opposition protests after last year’s disputed presidential election.
Hana Makhamalbaf’s film featuring footage of the violence in the post-election crackdown was to have been shown on the day Ahmadinejad arrives.