01242018Wed

Day of anti-Israel protest reveals Iran's internal rift

Wall Street Journal: Iran's government used annual pro-Palestinian demonstrations Friday to renew its threat to wipe Israel off the map, while dissident leaders accused the regime of using verbal attacks on Israel to divert attention from its battle with domestic political opponents.


The Wall Street Journal

By FARNAZ FASSIHI

Iran's government used annual pro-Palestinian demonstrations Friday to renew its threat to wipe Israel off the map, while dissident leaders accused the regime of using verbal attacks on Israel to divert attention from its battle with domestic political opponents.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a long speech during religious services, attacking Washington's efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians and saying no one has the right to negotiate away any Palestinian land.

Mr. Ahmadinejad called on all Muslims to prepare for a final battle to free Jerusalem, claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. "People of the region should be alert and ready so when the time comes we can fight our final and decisive battle" against Israel, he said.

The annual event, Quds Day, is a show of support for Palestinians in their conflict with Israel and is held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was initiated in 1979 by the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who declared the liberation of Jerusalem a religious duty for all Muslims.

This year, the day was also marked by bitter criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration by his opponents. Dissident leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, issued a statement saying the government was using Israel as an excuse to crush its critics.

"The orchestrated violence against the opposition shows that the occupation of Jerusalem and Israel is just an excuse. They consider their real enemy people who are fighting to free our country from oppression," said Mr. Mousavi's statement.

Mr. Mousavi also condemned an attack on another opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, whose house was raided Thursday night by militia members loyal to the government. Gunmen stormed Mr. Karroubi's Tehran residence and shot at his bodyguards. Mr. Karroubi wasn't hurt.

Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mousavi had called on supporters to take to the streets in an Quds Day protest. But after the attack, they told people to stay home. Opposition supporters posted hundreds of messages online on social networks and websites, saying the Iranian government treats its domestic critics worse than Israelis treat Palestinians.

"Let's all forget about Quds Day and focus on freeing Iran," wrote a man who gave his name as Adel, on website sahamnews.org, which is aligned with the Green Movement opposition.

The homes of Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mousavi remained under siege Friday, according to opposition websites. Phone lines to the leaders' houses were also cut, the websites reported.

Government forces in the central city of Shiraz raided the mosque of a reformist cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohamad Dastgheib, and beat his students with batons, according to news reports and photos posted online.

Brig. Gen. Mohamad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij forces, a paramilitary group under the command of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, said in an interview with the Mehr News Agency that Iran is "just looking for an excuse to wipe Israel off the map."

During government-organized Quds Day demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities, thousands of government supporters—many of them employees of public institutions—were bused to specific locations heavily monitored by security forces. The areas were closed off with check points and antiriot police to keep out opposition supporters.

Protestors carried banners and chanted "Death to Israel" and pledged their backing for Gaza and Lebanon, two places where Arabs have battled Israel.

In Lebanon, the Shiite party Hezbollah also staged a demonstration. Its leader, Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, blasted the current round of Middle East peace talks. "These negotiations were born dead. Talks with the Israelis are fruitless and they serve only to give legitimacy to the occupation," said Mr. Nasrallah.

The rhetoric against the negotiations from Iran and Hezbollah underscores the challenges Palestinian leaders face in trying to strike an agreement with Israel. Analysts say that unless Israel's real enemies, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, are on board, it will be difficult for any peace deal to hold.

—Nada Raad in Beirut contributed to this article.

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