Liberation of Palestine is ‘far away,’ laments Rouhani at al-Quds day rally

Iranians demand ‘Death to Israel,’ burn flag, at vast annual protests; but president complains regional conflicts are shifting focus elsewhere

A statue depicting the US Statue of Liberty decorated with a Star of David on its head is set ablaze by Iranian protestors during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 1, 2016.
(Atta Kenare/AFP)
A statue depicting the US Statue of Liberty decorated with a Star of David on its head is set ablaze by Iranian protestors during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 1, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN — Iranians staged anti-Israel rallies across the country for annual al-Quds Day events on the last Friday of Ramadan established by the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Tens of thousands joined the annual pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran, where the usual threats against Israel combined with newer concerns about a region mired in bitter disputes and war.

Israel and its perceived supporters in the United States and Britain were still the main bogeymen of the Quds (Jerusalem) Day protests, which saw huge crowds rally across Iranian towns and in allied countries.

Some protesters trampled the Israeli flag, and also chanted “down with the USA.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, Friday April 3, 2015 (Photo credit: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

President Hassan Rouhani, attending the rally, said regional conflicts were making it increasingly difficult to address the Palestinian issue.

“Today, due to the divisions in the Islamic world, the presence of takfiris (Sunni extremists) and terrorists in the region… we are far away from the ideal of liberating Palestine,” he told state TV, calling for greater unity between Muslims.

“The Zionist regime (Israel) is a regional base for America and the global arrogance (the US and its allies),” he added. “Disunity and discord among Muslim and terrorist groups in the region … have diverted us from the important issue of Palestine,” Rouhani said. “Unity is the only way to restore stability in the region,” Rouhani further said. “We stand with the dispossessed Palestinian nation.”

Iran, which does not recognize Israel and calls for its destruction, has marked al-Quds Day since the start of its 1979 Islamic revolution. Al-Quds is the historic Arabic name for Jerusalem, and Iran says the day is an occasion to express support for the Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.

A statute depicting the Statue of Liberty decorated with a Star of David on its head and holding portraits of former British prime minister Tony Blair and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir is set ablaze by Iranian protesters during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 01, 2016. (AFP photo) Tens of thousands joined pro-Palestinian rallies in Tehran, as the annual Quds Day protests take on broader meaning for a region mired in bitter disputes and war. On the bottom R a portrait of Australian born media magnate Rupert Murdoch. / AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE
A statute depicting the Statue of Liberty decorated with a Star of David on its head and holding portraits of former British prime minister Tony Blair and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir is set ablaze by Iranian protesters during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 1, 2016. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

“In Lebanon alone over 100,000 missiles are ready at all times to fly… at the heart of the Zionist regime,” said General Hossein Salami, deputy chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, in a speech before Friday prayers at Tehran University.

“Tens of thousands of other missiles… have been planted across the Islamic world and are awaiting orders so that with the push of a button a sinister and dark dot on the political geography of the world disappears forever,” he added.

Many at the protest in Tehran — from young children to elderly ladies — sported red bandanas with “I love fighting Israel” written on them, while others burned a replica of the Statue of Liberty with a Star of David on its head.

But for many of the thousands converging on Tehran University in sweltering 42°C (107°F) heat, the focus was also on Iran’s deepening rivalry with Saudi Arabia and its battles against jihadists such as the Islamic State (IS) group.

Sajad Saber, a 24-year-old student, said it was the first time he had attended the rally in Tehran — triggered by the death of a friend who had gone to fight in Syria.

“(He) was my buddy and lived in our neighborhood. He was killed by Daesh recently in Aleppo,” said Saber, using the Arabic name for IS.

Iran is fighting IS and other jihadist groups in Syria as part of its support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Many in Iran see these divisions as part of a deliberate conspiracy.

“Daesh is the creation of Israel. They want Muslims to fight each other and Palestine to be forgotten,” said Ali Kotobi, a 63-year-old Iranian born in Iraq, who said his cousins were currently fighting IS across the border.

One elderly man at Friday’s rally led a group in shouting “Damned House of Saud, dogs of America!” in reference to the leaders of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Another group carried a fake coffin featuring Saudi Arabia’s leaders and slogans against Daesh Sunni extremists.

Tensions between the two powers have plummeted over their support for opposing sides in wars in Yemen and Syria.

They have been further soured by the failure to agree on terms for Iranian pilgrims to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj in September.

“We ousted the Shah with these slogans,” said Mostafa Mokhtari, a 43-year-old electrical engineer, referring to the Islamic revolution of 1979 that ended the rule of the US-backed Shah.

Portraits of Bahraini King Hamad (top L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lie on a US flag in flames during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 01, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Portraits of Bahraini King Hamad (top L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lie on a US flag in flames during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 01, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group on Thursday cancelled its annual al-Quds Day event in Beirut’s southern suburbs, amid security concerns gripping the country in the wake of deadly suicide bombings earlier this week in a Christian village along the Syrian border.

An Iranian girl holds up a portrait of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump adorned with jihadist-style beard and a slogan reading "is Daeishian" (Daesh is Arabic acronym for Islamic State), during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 01, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
An Iranian girl holds up a portrait of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump adorned with jihadist-style beard and a slogan reading “is Daeishian” (Daesh is Arabic acronym for Islamic State), during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on July 1, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

In a statement, the Iran-backed Shiite group said it was scrapping the commemorations, citing the prevailing “security situation.”

It was the first time the group, which also participates as a political party in Lebanon’s government, cancelled the annual commemoration.

Lebanon has been on high alert since nine bombs exploded in the eastern border village of Qaa on Monday, killing five residents. Eight were detonated by suicide bombers. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Violence from neighboring Syria’s devastating civil war has on occasion spilled into Lebanon’s border regions. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants briefly seized the Lebanese border town of Arsal in 2014, before security forces pushed them back across the frontier.

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