Tens of thousands of Iranians, some chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel,” marched in the capital of Tehran on Friday to mark “Jerusalem Day,” an annual show of support for the Palestinians.
Banners raised by demonstrators read “the destruction of Israel is near” and “Palestine is the axis of unity of the Muslim world.”
Senior Iranian officials attended the rally, including President Ebrahim Raisi.
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the rallies marking what is also known as al-Quds Day have typically been held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Al-Quds is the Arabic name for the contested city at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it to its capital. The Palestinians seek the eastern part of Jerusalem as their future capital. Jerusalem is the home of the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, which also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam.
Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf told demonstrators that Israel is the “root” of problems in the region and that the Palestinians are hindering Israel’s plans.
“The Palestinians are actively confronting Israeli aggression from Gaza to the heart of Tel Aviv,” he added, alluding to a surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the start of the year.
Recent weeks saw deadly attacks and clashes in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as cross-border fire between Israeli forces and terrorists in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria.
“Yesterday they (Palestinians) were fighting with stones, and now they hit (Israel) with rockets,” Qalibaf said.
The rally was the first al-Quds Day demonstration after the country was shaken by months of anti-government protests.
Waves of protests erupted after the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who was detained by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. The protests rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics, marking a major challenge to their four-decade rule. Iran’ has blamed the unrest on foreign powers.
“We have witnessed conspiracies by enemies in recent times,” Qalibaf told the crowd in Tehran on Friday. “If it wasn’t for God’s grace and our nation’s intelligence… they would have had their dreams.”
Demonstrators on Friday rallied from 10 different directions to Tehran University’s campus, where the ceremony ended at Friday’s noon prayers.
State TV showed footage of similar rallies in other Iranian cities and towns. Many carried Palestinian flags and the banner of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Demonstrators in some places set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reza Masoumi, 63, a retired teacher, said he participated the rallies to remind Israel that “they cannot suppress Palestinians. We Iranians stand by Palestine.”
Fatemeh Yasrebi, 20-year-old student, said she supports Palestinians “until Israel withdraws from (the) occupied lands of Palestinians. Peace between Muslim nations and Israel is impossible.”
Iran does not recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Israel and Iran view each other as archenemies in the Middle East.
On Thursday, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said that war with Iran is increasingly likely and Israel needs to gear up to attack without US assistance.
“We need to prepare for war. It’s possible that we will reach a point where we have to attack Iran even without American assistance,” Amidror, a hawkish former general who served as Nation Security Council chief under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011-2013, said in an interview with Radio 103 FM.
“Iran is more sure of itself. It has managed to sign a number of agreements with Arab states,” he said, referring to the recent agreements by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic ties with Tehran. “The world is starting to look different.”