TEHRAN – Tens of thousands of Iranians, some chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” marched in the capital of Tehran on Friday to mark Jerusalem Day, an annual show of support for the Palestinians.
Senior Iranian officials attended the rally, including President Ebrahim Raisi. Since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, the rallies marking what is also known as al-Quds Day have typically been held typically held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, the contested city at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it to its capital. The Palestinians seek the eastern part of Jerusalem as a future capital.
Jerusalem is the home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam. The compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, is also the most sacred site in Judaism.
Raisi said that Friday's rallies show the “liberation of al-Quds is very close, closer than expected,” the official IRNA news agency reported. They also show Palestinian militant groups fighting Israel that “they are not alone,” Raisi added. He slammed the normalization of ties between Israel and some Gulf Arab states, saying it would not bring security to the region or Israel.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf told demonstrators that Israel is the “root" of problems in the region and that Palestinian militants are hindering Israel's plans.
The rally was the first al-Quds Day demonstration since Iran was shaken by months of anti-government protests. Waves of protests erupted after the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who was detained by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.
The protests rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics, marking a major challenge to their four-decade rule. Iran has blamed the unrest on foreign powers.
Demonstrators in Tehran marched on Friday from 10 different directions to Tehran University's campus, where the ceremony ended in time for Friday noon prayers.
Iranian state TV showed footage of similar rallies in other cities and towns across the country. Many demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and the banner of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. Demonstrators in some places set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reza Masoumi, 63, a retired teacher, said he participated the rallies to remind Israel that “they cannot suppress Palestinians. We Iranians stand by Palestine.”
Fatemeh Yasrebi, a 20-year-old student, said she supports Palestinians “until Israel withdraws from (the) occupied lands of Palestinians. Peace between Muslim nations and Israel is impossible.”
State TV has in recent days broadcast footage of Israeli police storming Palestinian worshippers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Iran does not recognize Israel and supports the anti-Israeli militant Palestinian groups like Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Israel and Iran view each other as archenemies in the Middle East.