Iranians have begun anti-Israel “Jerusalem Day” rallies across the country to condemn Israel’s control of the holy city.
The rallies, including one at Tehran University, were expected to last through Friday prayer ceremonies.
Chanting “Death to Israel,” demonstrators protested Israel’s control of Jerusalem, the city where Muslims believe Islam’s Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven. Palestinians want East Jerusalem for their future capital.
Iran does not recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli terror groups such as Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Demonstrators also chanted anti-American slogans to condemn the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem on May 14.
The official Fars News Agency said in its report of the protests that “millions of Iranians from all walks of life” were taking part in “nearly 900 Iranian cities.” There is no independent report on the numbers of participants in the rallies.
Iran has marked Al-Quds Day since the start of its 1979 Islamic revolution. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and Iran says the day is an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.
On Thursday night, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement on his website calling on Iranians to attend the rallies in large numbers.
“Quds day is a historic day when everybody protests against tyrants and voices support of an oppressed people who have been displaced from their homes during the past 70 years,” he is quoted as saying by the official Mehr News site.
He added: “This year’s Quds Day is special; this year, in addition to being the 70th anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian land, we are witnessing that Bayt al-Maqdis, which is respected by all Muslims, has been announced as the capital of the occupying Zionist Regime by the United States against all international rules and regulations. This year, we are also witnessing more tyranny and crimes against the oppressed people of Palestine, especially the residents of Gaza.
“On the other hand, we have witnessed more tours by the leaders of the Zionist Regime with the aim of promoting Iranophobia and attempts against the interests of the great Iranian nation in recent months.”
He urged “all people throughout our dear Iran, regardless of their thoughts and beliefs, to attend Quds Day demonstrations, sending this message to the usurper Zionist Regime that they have not forgotten the Palestinian land and the Holy Quds and the freedom of the Holy Quds is still the holy cause of the Iranian people and all Muslims. The day when the noble people of Palestine will go back to their homes and Muslims can say prayers in Quds, as their first Qibla [the direction of Muslim prayer, currently pointing at Mecca], is not far.”
The Iran-backed Quds Day is also the last Friday of Ramadan and comes just three days after the Palestinians’ Naksa Day on June 5, which commemorates the Arab loss in the 1967 Six Day War.
The IDF expects the day to be marked by large protests at the Gaza border, and has warned the strip’s residents to stay away from the protests, which have resulted in some 120 Palestinians being killed by IDF fire since the start of the weekly demonstrations on March 30.
The majority of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under cover of the protests.