Iranian crowds flock to annual anti-Israel protest
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran marked its annual Qods (Jerusalem) Day protest against Israel on Friday, with demonstrators inflamed by violence in the occupied territories that has claimed at least 337 lives, mostly Palestinians.
Tens of thousands, including parents with small children and robed clerics, flocked through the streets of central Tehran, en route to the city's main Friday prayers venue.
"Death to Israel, Death to the USA," chanted the marchers. Others called for direct resort to armed struggle with the Jewish state, which Iran does not recognize.
"Hizbollah fights and Israel trembles," roared the crowd, referring to the Iranian-backed guerrilla group. Many carried portraits of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Children clutched balloons emblazoned "Death to Israel," while organized groups marched with Palestinian headscarves covering their faces.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and veteran revolutionary cleric Ali Akbar Mohtashemi were among the dignitaries in the crowd. President Mohammad Khatami arrived in a presidential car to attend the prayer sermons that capped a morning of protests.
State media said similar marches were held in cities across Iran.
"Israel is a strong military base for the global arrogant powers in this region," former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in his prayer sermon in Tehran. "It has been created to keep the region's Arab countries under control."
Rafsanjani, echoing Iran's long-standing opposition to the U.S.-led peace process, said Israel had no intention of ever compromising with the Palestinians.
He cited what he said were "official" maps of a planned Greater Israel, encompassing huge swathes of Arab land -- from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, from the Tigris to the Nile rivers.
But he also had tough words for Iran's fellow Muslim countries, saying the world's Islamic community had done too little for the Palestinian cause.
Rafsanjani, now head of an influential state body advising Khamenei, said Muslim nations had pledged $1 billion to aid the Palestinians in their latest uprising against Israel but had so far paid out only $31 million.
"Isn't this shameful? Is this all the money that you have to offer? What about all the money you gave Iraq in the years it was fighting us?" he asked, in a reference to Arab support for Baghdad during its eight-year war with Iran.
"How much money are you spending on the Americans you have brought into the region, who are charging you by the hour?
"It is not a big expectation to say oil wells should be closed for a few days, or that they should reduce their relations with their masters for a while," he added.
Before the prayer sermons, held on the campus of Tehran University, demonstrators in funeral shrouds proclaimed their readiness to die for the Palestinian cause.
Special collection points were set up along the seven designated march routes to solicit public donations in support of the 12-week Palestinian uprising, or intifada.
Qods Day, inaugurated by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
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