TEHRAN // Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticized Israel and western countries yesterday over their charges that the country was trying to build nuclear weapons during an address to state officials. In the speech on Eid al Fitr, Ayatollah Khamenei called Israel a "fake state" and said Iran held to its view that a referendum among all residents of historic Palestine, including the Palestinian exiles, should decide the fate of the land.
His comments came after he had attacked Israel and western countries for "supporting Zionism" in his Friday prayer sermon, delivered not long after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, had described the Holocaust as a myth and accused Israel of waging a psychological war in order to justify their claim to Palestinian lands. The last Friday of Ramadan was declared a day of protest against Zionism and for supporting the Palestinians by the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, 29 years ago.
In his sermon, Ayatollah Khamenei said the high turnout in rallies on Friday, al Ouds day, was a "loud and clear cry against the fatal cancer of Zionism". But he failed to mention in either of the speeches the opposition protests in Tehran and several other Iranian cities, including Mashad, Tabriz, Kermanshah and Shiraz, that managed to hijack the international attention sought by pro-government protesters.
Mr Khamenei also told the large Eid prayer congregation that the al Quds, or Jerusalem day, rallies in Iran, London, Paris and elsewhere proved once again that the "Islamic Umma doesn't accept tyranny" and that the "conspiracies of the arrogant powers" to weaken the impact of the rallies had failed. Mr Khamenei also strongly criticised the United States for accusing Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons and said building and using nuclear weapons is against the principles of the Islamic Republic.
"We condemn nuclear weapons and prohibit their production and use, not for pleasing arrogant powers or because of international attacks or propaganda, but because of our beliefs," he said. "American officials who talk about Iranian missiles know that what they say is not true. "Iranophobia and Islamophobia is a policy that dictates their behaviour. They must correct this [behaviour] and must know that the Islamic Republic will not back down against their aggression".
Among the Shiite grand ayatollahs with the most followers in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei was the only one who confirmed the sighting of the new moon according to tradition and announced yesterday as Eid al Fitr in Iran. Followers of other grand ayatollahs, such as Hosseinali Montazeri, Yusuf Sanei, Mousavi Ardabili and Makarem Shirazi as well as the followers of the Iraq-based Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has a considerable number of followers in Iran, continued fasting yesterday and were expecting to celebrate Eid al Fitr today.
Monday will not be a public holiday in Iran after yesterday was announced the official Eid holiday by the state. Mr Khamenei had last week sternly warned the opposition not to try to divert Friday's al Quds rally from its main purpose, which he said was the condemnation of Israel and showing solidarity with Palestinians. The country's elite Revolutionary Guards had also warned the opposition not to use the occasion to further their political protests.
But tens of thousands of defiant opposition protesters turned out on the streets of Tehran and chanted "neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life will be sacrificed to Iran" and slogans denouncing Mr Ahmadinejad instead of the ones normally chanted on the occasion, such as "Down with Israel" and "Down with USA". The opposition rally was attended by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karrubi, Seyed Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Except for Mr Rafsanjani all were reportedly attacked by angry pro-government protesters but they were not hurt.
Clashes among the protesters and some arrests by the police were reported. firstname.lastname@example.org