Iranian president backs assault on Israel, holds talks with Gaza terror leaders

Hamas spokesman says Iran supported unprecedented invasion, but top US diplomat says no indication of direct involvement; Tehran residents celebrate terror onslaught

People cross a road in front of an anti-Israel billboard with the checkered keffiyeh covering the Star of David, entitled, 'Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,' in solidarity with the Hamas operation against Israel, in Tehran's central Vali-Asr Square on October 8, 2023. (AFP)
File: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York City on September 20, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said on Sunday that Tehran supports the Palestinians’ right to self-defense and warned Israel must be held accountable for endangering the region, a day after Hamas attacked Israel.

On Saturday, hundreds of Hamas terrorists infiltrated the country in an unprecedented onslaught on southern communities with at least 700 killed, over 2,200 wounded, and scores kidnapped and taken into the Gaza Strip. The numbers included many civilians, as well as soldiers.

“Iran supports the legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation,” Raisi said, quoted by state television.

“The Zionist regime (Israel) and its supporters are responsible for endangering the security of nations in the region, and they must be held accountable in this matter,” he said.

Iranians attend a gathering to express their solidarity with Palestinians after Hamas terrorists launched a deadly air, land and sea assault into Israel from the Gaza Strip, in Tehran, on October 7, 2023. (AFP)

He urged Muslim governments to “support the Palestinian nation” while praising “resistance” efforts by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as in countries including Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Raisi had spoken earlier with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, official media said.

State news agency IRNA said he had “discussed the developments in Palestine” in separate phone calls with Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told the BBC Sunday that Iran gave its support to the Palestinian terror group to launch its surprise multi-front attack.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference, in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

But US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told US media Sunday that “we don’t have anything that shows us that Iran was directly involved in this attack, in planning it or in carrying it out.”

“That’s something we’re looking at very carefully, and we’ve got to see where the facts lead,” he said, noting the group’s financial support for Hamas.

Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae said Sunday he had no doubt Iran was involved in the assault.

“That’s very clear to me,” he told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday. “And I think it’s something we have to understand, none of this stuff is accidental and Iran, of all the countries in the Middle East, does not accept the existence of the State of Israel.”

Rae said that Iran “has made it clear that it wants the elimination of the State of Israel. And so that’s their objective.”

Days before the assault, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in which he said Palestinian resistance was engaging in increased activity and predicted Palestinians would destroy Israel, which he called a “cancer.”

“This cancer will certainly, God willing, be eradicated by the hands of the Palestinian people and the resistance forces throughout the region,” he said, advising Saudi Arabia against normalization.

The Islamic Republic hosted talks with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in June.

At the time, Raisi said Israel was seeking to normalize ties with more Arab and Muslim countries “to discourage young Palestinians from (seeking to) liberate the occupied territories,” according to the presidency.

In this handout photo, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with senior Palestinian officials, including leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups, in the Syrian capital Damascus on May 4, 2023. (Iranian Presidency Office)

In a speech Sunday evening, President Isaac Herzog called Hamas’s attack “an unforgivable sin — a sin that is led not only by a murderous terrorist organization, but by an evil axis whose base is in Iran, whose proxies work tirelessly to undermine us.”

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in major cities of Iran, including in Tehran’s Palestine Square, carrying the Palestinian flag.

They also held pictures of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in a US drone attack in Baghdad in 2020 after overseeing the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations for more than a decade.

Billboards celebrating the offensive Hamas has dubbed “Al-Aqsa Flood” were installed in the capital, including one declaring: “The great liberation operation has begun.”

Crowds in some cities set off fireworks and torched Israeli flags.

Others marched in Palestinian colors while motorists honked their horns in jubilation, as seen in video footage from IRNA.

Palestinian walk through the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli airstrikes after a devastating Hamas assault on southern communities, on October 8, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Iran does not recognize Israel and has made support for the Palestinian cause a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The bitter rivals have engaged in a shadow war for years, with Iran accusing Israel of a series of sabotage attacks and assassinations targeting its nuclear program.

The United States and Israel have previously accused Iran of using drones and missiles to attack US forces and Israel-linked ships in the Gulf.

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