Iran's Khamenei says Israel 'not a country, but a terrorist base'

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called Israel "not a country, but a terrorist base" during a speech on Al-Quds Day, an annual show of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Tensions have been running high between the two arch-foes following a series of maritime attacks, an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility and the assassination of a top nuclear scientist that Tehran blamed on Israel.

The Islamic republic does not recognise the Jewish state, and supporting the Palestinian cause, as well as armed groups such as Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, has been a pillar of Iran's foreign policy since its 1979 revolution.

"Israel is not a country, but a terrorist base against the nation of Palestine and other Muslim nations," Khamenei said in live televised remarks.

"Fighting this despotic regime is fighting oppression and terrorism, and (doing so) is everyone's duty," he added.

Khamenei also blasted Israel's normalisation of ties with "some weak Arab governments" during the past year as attempts to undermine the Israeli "nightmare of Muslim unity".

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have all normalised ties with Israel in recent months under US-brokered deals.

"I say this decisively: these attempts will reach nowhere," he said, calling on Palestinians to continue their resistance and for Muslim governments to support them.

"The decline of the enemy Zionist regime has begun and will not stop."

- 'Cancerous tumour' -

Al-Quds Day has been held annually on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan since the early days of Iran's Islamic revolution.

This year state-sponsored nationwide rallies were absent due to Covid-19 restrictions.

But state TV showed the usual burning of flags by small groups of demonstrators who it said had come out "spontaneously" for the occasion, while an AFP journalist said protesters also rallied on motorbikes in the capital Tehran.

Khamenei's comments came amid an uptick in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and as tensions have soared in annexed east Jerusalem over an eviction threat hanging over four Palestinian families.

Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and critically wounded a third after they opened fire on a West Bank base on Friday.

Police and protesters have also clashed in recent days in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, fuelled by a years-long land dispute between Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlers.

The latest violence came as Palestinian Muslims flocked to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem for the last Friday prayers of Ramadan.

The United Nations called on Israel to end any forced evictions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, warning that its actions could amount to "war crimes".

In 2018, Khamenei reiterated Tehran's position that Israel is a "malignant cancerous tumour" that must "be removed and eradicated", and Iranian generals have repeatedly threatened to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel were to attack the Islamic republic.

But the official stance has been that Israel will cease to exist over its own "arrogance" rather than a direct attack by Iran.