(BINT JBEIL, Lebanon) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero's welcome in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil Thursday, just miles from the Israeli border.
Tens of thousands of cheering supporters packed a Lebanese soccer stadium to greet him, many waving Iranian flags.
His visit is seen as a provocation by both Israel and the U.S. Bint Jbeil is a stronghold of his militant Islamic ally Hezbollah, and it is just two miles from Israel's northern border.
Over the years it has seen some of the fiercest fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah fighters, particularly during the conflict of 2006.
Ahmadinejad praised Lebanese confrontations with Israel, calling Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel a "role model" for others in the region.
"The world should know the Zionists are mortal...today the Lebanese nation is alive and is a role model for the regional nations," he stated.
Iran has been a major patron of Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad has overseen the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild homes damaged by fighting here and in nearby towns.
That money has also been spent to rearm Hezbollah with up to 40,000 rockets and missiles, all pointed towards Israel.
His presence so close to the Israeli border has drawn sharp criticism from Israeli politicians.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev slammed the trip. "Iran's domination of Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah has destroyed any chance for peace, has turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and made Lebanon a hub for regional terror and instability," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Ahmadinejad's regime on ABC's Good Morning America Thursday, citing its nuclear program and its "support of terrorism."
"So when the Iranian president goes to Lebanon, and we know that they are supporting financially and in every other way Hezbollah, which is on the border of Israel and the border of the Palestinian areas, then that is a volatile situation," she told GMA.
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