Iran Denies Having Any Troops in Lebanon

Iran's hardline president slammed Israel for attacking Lebanon as the Iranian embassy in Beirut denied Israeli claims Saturday that Iranian troops had been sent in support of the Hezbollah guerrilla.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel's military offensive in Lebanon showed that "the Zionist regime behaves like Hitler," Iranian state television reported.

"The survival of this regime is not possible without oppression and aggression," he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, in an ominous sign that the conflict in Lebanon could spread to the whole region, Israel stated that 100 Iranian troops had helped Hezbollah fire a missile that damaged an Israeli warship blockading the Lebanese coast late Friday.

CountryWatch: Iran

A statement from the Islamic Republic's embassy in Beirut called the Israeli report "meaningless."

The claim was "an attempt to escape reality with the aim of covering up (Israel's) inability to confront the Lebanese nation and resistance," said the embassy's statement, which was published on the web site of the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran's hardline regime of Shiite Muslim clerics helped create the Shiite Hezbollah militia in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and reportedly continues to fund it. Along with Syria, the Islamic republic is suspected to use Hezbollah as its proxy to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But there has been no sign in Lebanon of Iranian soldiers for 15 years.

In Israel, an intelligence official said Saturday that elite Iranian troops helped Hezbollah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at the Israeli warship. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, said 100 fighters from Iran's Revolutionary Guard were in Lebanon.

Initially, it was believed an unmanned drone laden with explosives had hit the Israeli warship, but it later became clear that Hezbollah had used an Iranian-made, radar-guided C-802 missile.

"We can confirm that it (the ship) was hit by an Iranian-made missile launched by Hezbollah. We see this as a very profound fingerprint of Iranian involvement in Hezbollah," Israeli Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan told The Associated Press.

The Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guard is an elite corps of more than 200,000 fighters, independent of the regular armed forces and directly controlled by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian official news agency also reported that Iran's Health minister, Kamaran Bagheri Lankarani had told his Lebanese counterpart that the Islamic republic would provide medicine and medical equipment to Lebanon.

IRNA said Iran had already prepared medical equipment to send to Lebanon once the Beirut airport, which was bombed by Israeli jets, reopens. The agency also reported that Tehran was willing to fly Lebanese patients for treatment in Iran.

More than 100 Lebanese have been killed since Wednesday, and hundreds wounded. In Israel, 15 people have died since the fighting broke out after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border raid.