TEHRAN (AFP) – Chants against the Saudi royal family and the Islamic State group mingled with the traditional cries of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” at Jerusalem Day rallies across Iran on Friday.
The annual show of solidarity with the Palestinians, which sees hundreds of thousands take to the streets, was launched by Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and is now marked by its allies across the Middle East.
This year’s commemoration comes amid an intensifying battle for influence in the region between Shiite Iran and its Sunni arch rival Saudi Arabia, who have had no diplomatic relations since January last year.
“Death to the House of Saud and Daesh (IS),” demonstrators chanted. “Death to America”, “Death to Israel”, “Death to the UK”.
Iran has been heavily involved in the war against IS in both Iraq and Syria, where it has trained and advised militias to fight the jihadists.
On Sunday, Iran fired six 750-kilometre (470-mile) range missiles at an IS base in eastern Syria, days after the jihadist group claimed twin bombing and shooting attacks in Tehran.
On Friday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards displayed some of the same Zolfaghar missiles used in the strike in Valiasr Square in the heart of the capital, alongside a 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) range Qadr missile.
Iran’s ballistic missile programme has been the subject of persistent concern in Washington and the target of repeated US sanctions.
– Countdown to Israel’s destruction –
The Tehran metro was operating for free, taking Iranians to and from the University of Tehran, where the main weekly Muslim prayers were held.
Some demonstrators burnt Israeli and American flags.
Other carried a coffin emblazoned with a picture of US President Donald Trump and the slogan: “Death to America, death to the House of Saud.”
In a speech to the crowd in the capital, parliament speaker Ali Larijani called Israel the “mother of terrorism”.
“The displacement of millions of Muslims by the Zionist regime is unprecedented in the history of all terrorist groups,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani, who joined the march through Tehran, hit out at a new Iran sanctions bill approved by the US Senate.
“This year, Jerusalem Day is different, both because of the Israel-backed terrorists in the region… and because of America, which has always been thinking of violating the (Iranian) people’s rights,” he told state television.
“With the anti-Iranian bills presented in the US Senate and House of Representatives, the Iranian nation wants to tell America through this rally that the government will respond with determination and will continue the path it has chosen.”
Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly backed tough sanctions against Iran for its alleged “continued support of terrorism”. The bill has now been sent to the House for its approval.
Prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said the bill was a violation of the July 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, under which they agreed to lift sanctions in return for a reduction in Iran’s nuclear activities.
“This bill is definitely a breach of the body and spirit of the nuclear deal and people expect a serious response to such violations,” he said.
“Ninety-eight of the 100 US Senators voted for this anti-Iranian bill… which shows there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans and they all seek enmity with (Iran’s) Islamic system.”
Authorities unveiled a large countdown panel at Palestine Square in central Tehran, displaying the number of “days left before the destruction of Israel”.
The figure of 8,411 days — or just over 23 years — on the panel is based on a speech Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave nearly two years ago, in which he predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.