Millions of Iranians took part in anti-Israel and anti-US rallies across Iran on Friday, chanting “Down with America” and “Death to Israel” on Al-Quds Day, internationally observed annually on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan
The controversial holiday was proclaimed in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a religious duty for all Muslims to rally in solidarity against Israel and for the “liberation” of Jerusalem. Tehran says the occasion is meant to express support for Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attended the protest on Friday but did not speak at the main rally in Tehran, which coincided with seemingly deadlocked nuclear talks between Iran and world powers led by the United States.
Large demonstrations were also held in Iraq and Lebanon.
Some protesters in Tehran burned Israeli and American flags. Posters showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi King Salman and US President Barack Obama in flames.
Using the al-Quds Day hashtag, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted: “There are two sides in oppression: oppressor & the oppressed. We back the oppressed and are against oppressors.”
At a mock checkpoint, several men and a woman dressed in Israeli army uniforms shouted at people who wanted to pass and pushed them back, threatening them with batons and guns.
“We are all here to see the freedom of Quds. The people of Palestine are oppressed and their lands occupied,” said Ahmad Moghadam, a 67-year-old clerk.
“We stand behind Palestine until its people are freed.”
Iranian military commanders also attended, with General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Khamenei, saying the al-Quds march was different this year because of a worsening regional security situation.
Iran has backed Iraqi forces against IS and Syrian government forces against rebels including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
“Terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al-Nusra, with the support of the Zionists and Saudi’s cruel war against the oppressed people of Yemen… have created a new situation in the region and the world,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Safavi as saying.
Fereshteh Ashuri, 23, a law student, said: “We still recognize Israel as the enemy of Islam. I tell Israel to stop daydreaming and rest assured that you will collapse.”
The annual event drew massive crowds, despite the scorching temperatures in Tehran, which were set to climb to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Rallies were held in cities throughout the country.
Arch-rival Saudi Arabia was also publicly condemned at the mass rallies over its air campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since March, AFP reported, with the main slogan of the event denouncing the killing of children in “Gaza and Yemen.”
The crowd in Tehran chanted “Down with US, Israel and the House of Saud,” and carried placards that declared “Zionist soldiers kill Muslims” and “the Saudi family will fall.”
Demonstrators also set fire to a large effigy representing the Islamic State, labeled “Saudi’s doll.”
It was later burned along with American, Israeli and British flags, a common gesture at public demonstrations ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
It's Quds day in Tehran, Israel and the U.S. are joined by new open Iranian enemy, Saudi Arabia. pic.twitter.com/D25Wzwlhb0
— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) July 10, 2015
The rallies come as Iran and six world powers hold talks in Vienna aimed at working out a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing tens of billions of dollars in economic penalties on the Islamic Republic.
Earlier this week, a top Iranian general said Iran will never view the US positively, even if a deal is signed with world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
The commander of the Iranian ground forces, Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, declared Sunday that a rapprochement was out of the question, as the enemy is “exploiting nations and putting them in chains,” the semi-official Iranian FARS News Agency reported.
“The US might arrive at some agreements with us within the framework of the Group 5+1 [the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany], but we should never hold a positive view of the enemy,” Pourdastan said.
“Our enmity with them is over principles and rooted in the fact that we are after the truth and nations’ freedom, but they seek to exploit nations and put them in chains,” he added.