CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Osama bin Laden slammed Palestinian negotiations with Israel and urged holy war for the liberation of Palestine in a new audio tape.
The audio, the second by bin Laden in as many days, was the first time bin Laden spoke of the Palestinian question at length since the deteriorating situation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip where Israel imposed a siege in response to heavy rocket fire by Gaza militants.
He said that “Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron.”
Bin Laden also called on Palestinians who are unable to fight in the “land of Al-Quds” a Muslim reference to Jerusalem, to join the al-Qaeda fight and the holy war, or jihad, in Iraq. “The nearest field of jihad today to support our people in Palestine is the Iraqi field,” said bin Laden in the approximately 11-minute tape, excerpts of which were first broadcast Thursday by pan-Arab Al-Jazeera television. The entire tape appeared Friday on an Islamic militant Website.
“We tell our brothers in Palestine who could not join the jihad in the land of Al-Quds, to get rid of illusions of political parties and groups which are mired in trickery of the blasphemous democracy and to take their positions among the ranks of the mujahideen in Iraq,” he said.
Such a Palestinian fight in Iraq should be “supported by all Muslims, specially from neighboring countries,” bin Laden added.
The authenticity of the tape, which was broadcast with an old photograph showing bin Laden in a white turban and what appeared to be a camouflage jacket, could not be verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden’s image appeared next to a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City.
As with bin Laden’s earlier audiotape, posted late Wednesday on the same militant Web site, there was no indication when exactly it was made. The two messages were bin Laden’s first this year.
In the Thursday audiotape, bin Laden said the sufferings of the Palestinians in Gaza began when treacherous Arab leaders began supporting the U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last November, and the “Zionist entity.”
“By their support, they are considered partners to this horrible crime,” bin Laden said of Arab leaders who have backed the Mideast peace talks.
Bin Laden appeared to be seeking to merge the Palestinian cause into the wider al-Qaeda struggle. Recently, there have been concerns al-Qaeda would try to increase its influence in Palestinian territories and supporters of the terror networks who sign into jihadi Web sites have called for such action.
Israel has been battling Hamas in Gaza since the Islamic militant group took control of the strip in June from followers of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli air raids are common in Gaza and militants fire rockets into Israeli towns near the strip.
“Palestine will not return to us with the negotiations by the submissive rulers, their conferences nor by demonstrations and elections,” bin Laden said. “Palestine will come back to us if we awaken from our ignorance and adhere to our religion and sacrifice our lives and means to it.”
“My nation,” bin Laden addressed his followers, “You have a great opportunity to regain your freedom and get out of being a follower of this Zionist-crusade alliance and to do this, you have to free yourself from the chains of humiliation thrown on us by the agents of this alliance, the rulers of our countries.”
Although al-Qaeda has previously released two messages in as many days, most recently by bin Laden’s top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri in December, these latest audiotapes appeared to be the closest by bin Laden, said Ben Venzke, the head of IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors militant messages. “Al-Qaeda has been making a concerted effort to be responsive to developments in news cycle and to respond to current events with their perspective on it,” Venzke said. “The situation in Gaza and the reprinting of cartoons was something bin Laden felt was important to address.”
In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told The Associated Press that Israel does not comment on bin Laden’s statements.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “We and the international community must prove him wrong, because we have been pursuing peace through negotiations, and I believe the parties involved must make every effort to make the year 2008 a year of peace.”
In Wednesday’s five-minute recording, bin Laden accused Pope Benedict XVI of helping in a “new Crusade” against Islam and warned of a “severe” reaction for Europeans’ publication of cartoons seen by Muslims as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
That message raised concerns al-Qaeda was plotting new attacks in Europe. Some experts said bin Laden, believed to be in hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border area, may be unable to organize such an attack himself and instead was trying to fan anger over the cartoons to inspire violence by supporters.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said Thursday that “CIA analysis assesses with a high degree of confidence it is Osama bin Laden’s voice on the tape” and that there was “no reason to doubt bin Laden is alive.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of intelligence matters involved.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the contents of bin Laden’s message “are filled with hate and encouraging people to murder innocents in the name of a perverted and depraved cause.”
On Feb. 13, Danish newspapers republished one of the cartoons, which shows Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, to illustrate their commitment to freedom of speech after police said they had uncovered a plot to kill the artist.
Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday that bin Laden’s accusation the pope had played a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam was “baseless.” Lombardi said the pope has repeatedly criticized the cartoons, first published in some European newspapers in 2006 and republished by Danish papers in February.