Iran’s new president has called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Hasan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel – his country’s archenemy – echoed long-standing views of other Iranian leaders.
“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Mr Rouhani was quoted as saying by an Iranian news agency ahead of his inauguration.
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 five-year freeze in Mideast talks.
“Israelis show a compromising face to the world but continue their expansionism in practice,” Mr Rouhani said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Mr Rouhani’s remarks. The Israeli leader has urged the world to step up pressure on Tehran to halt its disputed nuclear programme with tougher sanctions and threats of military action.
Mr Rouhani won a landslide victory in Iran’s June 14 presidential election and is to officially replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tomorrow
He has pledged to follow a “path of moderation” and promised greater openness over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Netanyahu said Mr Rouhani’s statement should serve to “wake up the world from the illusion” that a new Iranian president meant a new policy by Tehran.
“The real face of Rouhani has been exposed earlier than expected,” Mr Netanyahu said. “This is what the man thinks and this is the Iranian regime’s operational plan ... A country that threatens to destroy Israel must not be allowed weapons of mass destruction.”
Mr Rouhani spoke at an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking “Al-Quds Day” – the Arabic word for Jerusalem.
Iran does not recognise Israel and has since the 1979 Islamic Revolution observed the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan as “Al-Quds Day.” Tehran says the occasion is meant to express support for Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.
Anti-Israeli rallies were held in cities and towns across Iran. In the capital, Tehran, tens of thousands took to the streets, chanting “Down with America” and “Death to Israel.” Some protesters burned American and Israeli flags.