By SEAN YOONG
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 3, 2006; 10:49 AM
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday the solution to the Middle East crisis is to destroy Israel. In a speech during an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders, Ahmadinejad also called for an immediate halt to fighting in Lebanon between Israel and the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah.
"Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented," he said.
Ahmadinejad, who has drawn international condemnation with previous calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, said the Middle East would be better off "without the existence of the Zionist regime."
Israel "is an illegitimate regime, there is no legal basis for its existence," he said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev responded by noting the ties between Ahmadinejad's regime and Hezbollah.
"Our operation in Lebanon is designed to neutralize one of the long arms of Iran _ Hezbollah," Regev said. "Hezbollah is their proxy, being used as an instrument of Teheran to advance their extremist agenda and the blow to Hezbollah is a blow to Iranian interests and a blow to all extremist jihadist forces in the region."
Ahmadinejad accused the United States of using Israel to try to control the Middle East and its oil wealth.
"Today the Americans are after the greater Middle East," he said. "The Zionist regime is used to reach this objective. The sole existence of this regime is for invasion and attack."
He urged Muslim states to "isolate" the United States and Britain, accusing them of supporting Israel's military offensive and saying they should be expelled from the U.N. Security Council.
Ahmadinejad also rejected proposals for deploying international troops along the Israeli-Lebanese border to separate the warring parties.
"Peace and security in Lebanon and its borders has to be preserved by the Lebanese government and people. Deployment of foreign forces is not acceptable in any shape unless it is just, based on U.N. rules and preserves the unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon," he said.