DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a cease-fire in Lebanon and criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East on Wednesday, saying Washington wants to "recarve the map" of the region with Israel's help.
Ahmadinejad's nation is a major backer of Hezbollah and a sworn enemy of Israel, but he denied that Tehran provides military support to the militant group.
However, more than 60 Iranian volunteers set off from Iran on Wednesday in what they called a holy war against Israeli forces in Lebanon.
In addition to a cease-fire, Ahmadinejad called for talks on the Lebanon crisis without conditions and demanded Israel compensate the country and apologize for its actions.
He said Iran only supports Hezbollah politically and morally.
Ahmadinejad suggested the hostilities fit in with what he called a U.S. effort to influence the future of the Middle East." The United States wants to recarve the map of the Middle East, acting through Israel. The United States is conducting its international policy through deceit, money and treachery," he said.
Ahmadinejad is in Tajikistan for talks with President Emomali Rakhmonov. They signed a joint statement Tuesday declaring "that the use of force against Palestine and Lebanon is unacceptable." At that time, they also called for a cease-fire and urged international organizations to seek the swiftest possible settlement of the conflict.
The volunteers — ranging from teenagers to grandfathers — plan to join about 200 others on the way to the Turkish border, which they hope to cross Thursday. They plan to reach Lebanon via Syria on the weekend.
Organizers said the volunteers are carrying no weapons, and it was not clear whether Turkey would allow them to pass.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not say Wednesday if Turkey would allow them to cross. Iranians, however, can enter Turkey without a visa and stay for three months.
Iran says it will not send regular forces to aid Hezbollah, but apparently it will not attempt to stop volunteer guerrillas. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's main sponsors.