TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A former Iranian president warned the West on Friday that its support for Israel would backfire as hundreds of thousands of people staged rallies in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is still considered influential in Iranian politics, said the U.S., Britain and France back Israel and this dangerous.
“They will put themselves in trouble, eventually,” Rafsanjani said during a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran marking “Al-Quds Day” the Arabic word for Jerusalem.
Israel could “take tougher and more offensive action” than the United States against Iran and the Arab world, warned Rafsanjani, who is the head of a powerful clerical body that has the ability to appoint and dismiss the country’s supreme leader.
State-run television also aired clips on Friday featuring hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York. The president, who is in the U.S. for the United Nations General Assembly meeting, said Israel does not have support among ordinary people in the United States. He also chided hundreds of demonstrators who protested him during his trip.
“It was a big failure for them,” Ahmadinejad said. The latest anti-Israel remarks made by Iranian leaders come as hundreds of thousands rallied in cities across the country to protest Israel’s continued hold on Jerusalem, the city where Muslims believe Islam’s Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven.
In the capital Tehran, demonstrators chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” to commemorate day of “Al-Quds.” Some protesters also burned American and Israeli flags.
Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam after the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.
Tehran’s Jewish community also participated in the rally according to a statement by the Tehran Central Jewish Committee, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press.
State television reported similar large rallies in all other provincial capitals and smaller towns across the country.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has observed the last Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as “Al-Quds Day,” as a way of expressing support to the Palestinians and emphasizing the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims.
Rallies were also held in the Syrian capital of Damascus to mark “Al-Quds.”
More than 3,000 people gathered at the Yarmouk refugee camp carrying Palestinian flags and anti-Israeli banners. The rally was attended by several officials from Syria-based Palestinian factions such as Ahmed Jibril, the secretary-general of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General-Command.
“This day is a day of popular anger in the Arab and Islamic nations. It is directed toward all those who are colluding against Palestine and Jerusalem,” Jibril said in an apparent reference to Arab nations that have relations with Israel. “Jerusalem is being destroyed and Judaized every day while Israeli flags fly in their capitals.”
Another official, Ziad Nakhale of the Islamic Jihad group, said Jerusalem is holy for Muslims and “we call all Muslims around the world to liberate it.”
Twelve-year-old Mohammed Kheir, who took part in the rally while wearing a camouflage uniform, said he will never forget Jerusalem.
“Palestine is ours and it is the most valuable thing for me. We will never forget it. This is what my father taught us,” the boy said.