Iranians rallied nationwide on Friday in a show of support for Palestinians as archfoe Israel pursued its campaign against Hamas and other groups in the Gaza Strip.
Demonstrations were held in Tehran and more than 700 towns and cities across the country on the last day of prayer and rest of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, state television reported.
In the capital, footage showed demonstrators, carrying placards proclaiming “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” converging from nine different points on Tehran University in the city center.
Iran holds al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) rallies in support of the Palestinians every year on the last Friday of Ramadan, but this year’s demonstrations came on the 18th day of Israel’s campaign against rocket-firing and tunnel-digging Hamas extremists in Gaza. Hamas has fired over 2,000 rockets into Israel. It has also built dozens of “attack tunnels” under the border, and attempted five attacks from the tunnels in the past two weeks, killing six Israeli soldiers; Israel killed 20 gunmen emerging from the tunnels.
According to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, more than 800 Palestinians have been killed in the assault on Gaza and the Islamist Hamas movement that dominates it and has long been supported by Iran.
Rockets and mortar rounds fired into Israel have killed three civilians — two Israelis and a Thai farm worker — and fighting in and around Gaza has killed 33 Israeli soldiers in all.
“The Islamic world must in unison declare this day one of anger, hatred, unity and resistance against Israel,” President Hassan Rouhani said at the Tehran demonstration.
Rouhani, who has overseen a fledgling rapprochement with the West, condemned “those who stay silent in the face of the Zionist regime’s crimes.
“The world demands an end to the Gaza blockade, opening the Rafah crossing and halting attacks on Gaza so its people can live normally,” he said.
He was referring to the demands of Hamas for any truce with Israel to end the deadly violence. The Rafah Border Crossing between Gaza and Egypt is the territory’s only one not controlled by Israel. The blockade is maintained by Israel and Egypt to prevent Hamas smuggling in weaponry.
‘Continue the struggle’
General Hossein Salami, second in command of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, struck a defiant tone in a speech broadcast on state television.
“Now no place in the occupied territories is safe for the Zionists. The missiles of Palestinian fighters have a range well beyond what the Zionists believe,” he claimed.
“We will continue, house by house, and avenge the blood of martyrs shed in Palestine.”
Salami’s sentiments were echoed by demonstrators.
“My message to the Palestinians is this: Continue the struggle until your last drop of blood. Islamic countries, especially Iran, are behind you to save you,” a young protester named Hassan told AFP.
Iran does not recognize Israel’s existence, and supports Palestinian terrorist groups that fight it.
On Thursday, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, told state television’s Arabic service that Tehran had provided Hamas with the technology it has used to rain down rockets on Israel.
“Today, the fighters in Gaza have good capabilities and can meet their own needs for weapons,” he said.
“But once upon a time, they needed the arms manufacture know-how and we gave it to them.”
During the last major conflict in and around Gaza in November 2012, Larijani said Iran was “proud” to have provided “both financial and military support” to Hamas.
Israel accused Iran of supplying Gaza militants with its Fajr-5 missile, which has a range of 75 kilometers (45 miles), for use during that conflict.
But the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said at the time it was not the missiles that had been supplied, but their technology.
The statements came after Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday night that the “Zionist regime” must be destroyed. This should be achieved “by a referendum of the people living there,” but until that happens, there should be “total armed resistance” against it. That resistance by the Palestinians should be helped by the provision of arms, he added, condemning Israel’s recent “savagery.”
Khamenei’s speech was reported both by Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
He said Israel, which he did not refer to by name, had always practiced and taken pride in using “overt violence.
“They perpetrated any violent act they could think of against the (Palestinians),” he told a cheering crowd of Iranian university students in Tehran. “They stop at nothing. This is the reality of the Zionist regime. The only solution is to destroy this regime.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.