Iran held massive anti-Israel rallies Friday, with president-elect Hassan Rowhani calling the arch-foe Jewish state a “wound” on the Muslim world, drawing a sharp response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“In our region, a wound has for many years been sitting on the body of the Islamic world in the shadow of occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds (Jerusalem),” Rowhani said in remarks broadcast on state television.
“This day in actuality is a reminder that Muslims will not forget their historic right (to Jerusalem) and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny,” added Rowhani, considered a moderate cleric by standards of Iran’s political system.
His remarks highlighted his allegiance to Iran’s support for the Palestinian cause and rejection of Israel as a state, an unfaltering cornerstone of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy since its 1979 birth.
A day before Rowhani assumes the country’s highest elected office, his remarks, originally misquoted by state media.
The ISNA and Mehr agencies earlier quoted him as saying “the Zionist regime is a wound inflicted for years on the body of the Muslim world that must be cleansed.”
ISNA later acknowledged its mistake and corrected its story. Mehr altered its story, taking out the cleansing reference without any explanation.
Netanyahu was quick to denounce Rowhani, based on the initially reported remarks.
“Even if the Iranians work to deny these comments, this is what the man thinks and reflects the regime’s plans,” Netanyahu said, adding that Tehran’s objectives remained “to build a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel.”
Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which Western powers also suspect are aimed at building a bomb despite Iranian denials, have troubled relations Iran and world powers for the past decade.
Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear armed state in the Middle East, has repeatedly threatened to attack Iranian nuclear installations to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear arms.
On Friday, addressing a large crowd at Tehran University, outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that a regional storm was brewing that would “uproot” Israel.
“I will inform you, with God as my witness, that a devastating storm is on the way that will uproot the basis of Zionism,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast on state television.
In a parting shot , Ahmadinejad said Israel “has no place in this region,” provoking chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” from the crowd.
Ahmadinejad also accused Israel and its Western allies of fomenting discord in the region, saying “it was their dream to see the will of regional countries bent on destroying (Israel) diverted towards civil war.”
“Who is happy for what is happening in Egypt and Syria,” he asked.
He also claimed that “the leaders of extremist Islamist groups who advocate conflict, behead Muslims … and kill women and children, are Zionists.”
He did not elaborate.
Ahmadinejad’s past broadsides against Israel have earned him severe criticism from Western and other nations, and walkouts during his addresses to the UN General Assembly.
Iran staged massive rallies to mark annual Quds Day, whose name, derived from Arabic, designates the city of Jerusalem, the disputed future capital of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
State television broadcast footage of hundreds of thousands of people on the march nationwide, as well as speeches and sermons supporting the Palestinian cause and condemning Israel.
Demonstrators holding up Palestinian flags and pictures of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate decision maker in the Islamic republic, also denounced efforts to revive stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Ahmadinejad, without directly hinting at the talks, said: “The issue of Palestine will not be easily resolved.”
“Thinking that the solution is in giving one part of land to (the Israelis) and the other part to the Palestinians is naive,” he said.
That was echoed by Rowhani who said the peace efforts were providing Israel with “a good opportunity to project a peaceful appearance” while “continuing with its aggressive nature against the backdrop of an excuse for compromise.”
Iran does not see eye to eye with the Palestinian Authority, and instead supports the armed Hamas movement that holds power in the Gaza Strip.
The struggle toward a final peace deal has moved only fitfully for decades, and talks collapsed completely in 2010 when Israel refused to extend a freeze on settlement building on Palestinian land.
Senior Israeli and Palestinian envoys will meet in Washington on Monday to restart the stalled talks, the US State Department has said.