Iran Denies Helping Hezbollah

Iran on Sunday denied Israeli claims that it had troops stationed in Lebanon and that it helped Hezbollah fire Iranian-made rockets at Israel and one of its warships, saying the guerrilla group could defend itself without outside help.

"There are no [Iranian] guards there. Shipment of [Iranian] missiles to Hezbollah is also not correct," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters Sunday.

Israel said Saturday that 100 Iranian troops from the elite Revolutionary Guards were in Lebanon, and that they helped Hezbollah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at an Israeli warship blockading the Lebanese coast late Friday.

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

"Circulation of such reports are psychological war with the intention of expanding tension in the region," Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Sunday.

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Meanwhile, Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Hezbollah and said it was winning its fight against Israel.

"The Zionists were willing to do with Lebanon what they wished ... But thanks to the power of Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance has disturbed the dream of the Zionists," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state television Sunday.

He also said Hezbollah would not disarm.

"The U.S. president says Hezbollah must be disarmed. It's clear that (the U.S.) and Zionists want this, but it won't happen," Khamenei said.

"The Lebanese people know the value of Hezbollah. They know it was Hezbollah that prevented the Zionists from doing what they wanted to Lebanon," he said.

Asefi also warned on Sunday Israel that expanding its bombing raids to neighboring Syria would bring the Jewish state "unimaginable damages."

"We hope the Zionist regime does not make the mistake of attacking Syria. Expanding the front of aggression and attacks ... would definitely face the Zionist regime with unimaginable damages," said.

"Iran stands by the people of Syria," he added.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that any Israeli attack against Syria would be viewed as an aggression on the whole Islamic world.

Asefi spoke minutes after Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets at the Israeli city of Haifa. The group said it targeted a refinery near the city, Israel's third largest. Israeli police confirmed that at least eight people were killed.

Hezbollah said it used Raad-2 and Raad-3 rockets, believed to be the longest range rockets the group has used to date.

The attack was the worst strike on Israel since violence broke out along the border with Lebanon last week, after Hezbollah guerillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Israeli authorities warned all residents in the central city of Tel Aviv and north to be on heightened alert, reflecting the longer range of the missile attacks.

Asefi also accused the U.S. of playing a "destructive role" in the ongoing crisis by encouraging Israel to continue attacks against Lebanon.

"The U.S government has had a very destructive role in the Middle East crisis. It has patronized continuation of crimes by the regime and has vetoed some 60 U.N resolutions against Israel. The U.S. should revise its policy," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has placed blame for the violence squarely on Hezbollah and the nations that back it, calling the escalation "a moment of clarification" that should show the world that Hezbollah disrupts the peace process.