Iranian, Syrian Strongmen Try to Dilute Hopes for Peace in Mideast

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Hezbollah has "hoisted the banner of victory" over Israel and toppled U.S.-led plans for the Middle East.

Hezbollah's main backers — Iran and Syria — struck nearly identical tones a day after a cease-fire took effect in Lebanon: heaping praise on the guerrillas as perceived victors for the Islamic world and claiming that Western influence in the region was dealt a serious blow.

"God's promises have come true," Ahmadinejad told a huge crowd in Arbadil in northwestern Iran. "On one side, it's corrupt powers of the criminal U.S. and Britain and the Zionists ... with modern bombs and planes. And on the other side is a group of pious youth relying on God."

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In Damascus, Syrian President Syrian President Bashar Assad said Washington's plans for the Middle East were turned into "an illusion" by Hezbollah's resistance to the Israeli military during the 34-day conflict.

Israel "was defeated" and Hezbollah "hoisted the banner of victory," Ahmadinejad told the crowd, including many people waving yellow Hezbollah banners and Iranian flags.

Ahmadinejad drew cheers when he said Hezbollah foiled what he called the plans of Washington and its allies "to create the so-called new Middle East."

"The people of the region are also after the new Middle East, but a Middle East that is free from U.S. and British domination," he said.

After the war broke out July 12, Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders repeatedly denounced the U.N. Security Council for moving slowly toward a cease-fire. They also sharply criticized other Muslim nations for what Iran considered a failure to rally around Hezbollah and Lebanese civilians.

Ahmadinejad said the United Nations should force war reparations from Israel and its allies, led by the United States.

"Those who were involved in inflicting damage to the Lebanese nation are responsible," he said.

Ahmadinejad has drawn worldwide condemnation for calling for Israel's destruction and describing the Holocaust as a myth.

Earlier Tuesday, a hard-line Iranian cleric warned Israel that Iran's new long-range missiles will land in Tel Aviv if the Jewish state should attack Iran, state-run television said.

Ahmad Khatami, a mid-ranking cleric, declared that Israel would face dire consequences if it "makes an iota of aggression against Iran."

"They must fear the day 1,250-mile range missiles land in the heart of Tel Aviv," he said.

Khatami is a Friday prayer leader in Tehran and a member of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical panel that has the power to choose or dismiss Iran's top leader, but he is not considered a government official.

In his address, Ahmadinejad also said his government would stick by its plans to reply on Aug. 22 to a package of Western economic and technology incentives offered in exchange for a suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment.

The U.N. Security Council has told Iran it must halt enrichment by Aug. 31 or face possible sanctions.

Western nations, led by the United States, claim Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover for developing atomic weapons in violation of its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Iran denies the allegations, saying its program has the peaceful goal of generating electricity with nuclear reactors.

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