Chants of ‘Death to Israel’ as masses throng Raisi funeral procession in Tehran

Khamenei leads prayers over coffins of president and seven others killed in helicopter crash; funeral attended by top Hamas, Hezbollah officials

Crowds of Iranians attend the funeral procession of president Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage in the streets of Tehran, May 22, 2024. (Iran Press/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Huge crowds of Iranians thronged the streets of the capital Tehran on Wednesday for the funeral procession of president Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage, who died in a helicopter crash.

In the city center, mourners clutching portraits of Raisi gathered in and around the University of Tehran, where Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, led the prayers.

Flanked by top officials, Khamenei said prayers over the coffins of the dead, who also included Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The leader of Palestinian terror group Hamas outside of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, joined the procession, as did the deputy leader of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Naim Qassem.

“I say once again… we are sure that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its support for the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh told the crowd to chants of “Death to Israel.”

Raisi’s helicopter crashed into a fog-shrouded mountainside in northwestern Iran on Sunday as he headed back to the city of Tabriz after attending a ceremony on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from Turkey, Russia and the European Union. State television announced Raisi’s death early on Monday.

Raisi, who was widely expected to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader, was 63.

Mourners hold posters of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a funeral ceremony for him and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash, in Tehran, on May 22, 2024. (Atta KENARE / AFP)

In the capital, huge banners went up hailing the late president as “the martyr of service,” while others bade “farewell to the servant of the disadvantaged.”

Tehran residents had received phone messages urging them to “attend the funeral of the martyr of service.”

From the university, the coffins will be driven to the huge Enghelab Square in the city center and on to Azadi Square, state media said.

Funeral rites for Raisi and his entourage began on Tuesday with processions through Tabriz and the Shiite clerical center of Qom drawing tens of thousands of black-clad mourners.

From Tehran, the bodies will be taken to Iran’s second city of Mashhad, Raisi’s hometown in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a June 28 election for Raisi’s successor.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who was Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy, has been named acting foreign minister.

The country’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the helicopter crash.

Honor guards carrying the coffins of late Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and others during a funeral procession at Mehrabbad Airport in Tehran May 21, 2024.(Iranian Presidency / AFP)

The hardline Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with Israel.

After his death, global allies Russia and China and regional powers voiced their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute of silence. Israel has expressed exasperation over the expressions of mourning, noting Raisi’s past overseeing executions of thousands of Iranians in the 1980s and his championing of repressive, hardline policies.

Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including Syria, Palestinian terror group Hamas and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, both of which are backed by Tehran.

Burial in Mashhad

Funeral rites for the late president and his entourage began on Tuesday with tens of thousands of black-clad mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz and the Shiite clerical center of Qom.

From Tehran, the bodies will be moved to South Khorasan province before being transferred to Raisi’s home city of Mashhad in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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