Echoing the anti-Israel rhetoric of other current and former Iranian leaders, Iran’s new president called Israel an “old wound,” in comments published just two days ahead of his inauguration.
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency said Rouhani spoke after taking part in an annual pro-Palestine rally — International Quds Day — in Tehran on Friday.
ISNA’s original report quoted Rouhani as saying: “The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.” Later, though, the agency corrected its report, and said that while Rouhani said Israel occupied Arab land and that tyranny must be resisted, he did not urge Israel’s removal.
The president-elect also expressed doubts about the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal even as the two sides resumed negotiations in Washington this week, ending a three-year freeze in Mideast talks.
“Israelis show a compromising face to the world but continue their expansionism in practice,” Rouhani said, according to Fars, another semi-official news agency.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Iranian president’s comments Friday, saying he had revealed his true face.
Outgoing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his own anti-Israel comments Friday, in what is thought to be his last public address.
“I will inform you with God as my witness, a devastating storm is on the way that will uproot the basis of Zionism,” he said at a Quds Day rally, adding that Israel “has no place in this region.”
According to a report in Al Jazeera, the former Iranian president also “accused medical companies run by Zionists of creating viruses and spreading them all over the world so they can drive up drug prices.”
Rouhani won a landslide victory in Iran’s June 14 presidential election. He replaces Ahmadinejad on Sunday and has been described by some observers as more moderate than his predecessor. He was believed to have garnered the votes of Iran’s more reform-minded voters, even though he is a veteran of the ruling clerical establishment and his candidacy was authorized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In his own Quds Day remarks, Khamenei vowed that “Palestine will be free” and predicted the emergence of a new “Islamic Middle East.”
Rouhani has pledged since his election to follow a “path of moderation” and promised greater openness over Iran’s nuclear program, which has placed it at odds with the West.
Millions of Iranians took to the streets Friday to mark the day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, held annually on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. Millions of Muslims across the world were expected to attend similar rallies.
Protesters in Tehran shouted the familiar slogans “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” during demonstrations Friday morning.
Rallies were also planned in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and across the Muslim world.
The day of anti-Zionist expression was conceived by Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Khomeini established the annual event in order to bring international attention to the Palestinian cause, according to Will Fulton, an Iran analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and to strengthen movements like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
It is marked in Iran by huge rallies, the burning of Israeli and American flags, and with predictions of the Zionist regime’s imminent demise. Iran’s allies, including the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah and President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, also organize mass rallies for Quds Day.
In the past, Sunni extremists have used the day as an opportunity to attack Shiites. During a 2010 Shiite Quds Day rally in the Pakistani city of Quetta, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. A spokesman for the Taliban said the attack was in response to the killing of Sunni clerics by Shiites.
“Palestine will be free: there should be no doubt of this,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in remarks issued in honor of Quds Day. “Palestine will certainly become free and will be returned to the people, and in that place a Palestinian state will be formed; of these things there is no question.
A London Quds Day demonstration organized by the Islamic Human Rights Commission will reportedly be attended by representatives of Neturei Karta International, the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox sect that sees the founding of the state of Israel as a violation of God’s plan. On Thursday, a gag order was lifted on an espionage indictment filed in Israel against a 46-year-old Neturei Karta adherent who is accused of offering to serve as a spy for the Iranian regime.
In 2006, members of the fringe Neturei Karta sect visited Iran to take part in a conference hosted by then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which sought to “reexamine the Holocaust.”