ROME (AP) – Italian politicians were to join a torch-lit rally in front of the Iranian embassy Thursday to protest remarks by the Iranian president that Israel should be "wiped off the map."
The protest was called by Il Foglio, a small conservative newspaper close to Premier Silvio Berlusconi, "to defend the right of Israel to exist."
The paper has said that more than 500 prominent Italians, including politicians from right and left, have backed the demonstration. Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, who made a two-day official visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel earlier this week, is among those who said he would attend.
The protest stemmed from remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week that Israel should be "wiped off the map." He has since defended his remarks following widespread international condemnation.
On Wednesday, Iran summoned the Italian ambassador to Tehran, reportedly to protest the pro-Israel rally.
The Italian left has bickered over the rally organized by Il Foglio, and the Green Party staged a separate pro-Israel demonstration in front of the Iranian embassy on Wednesday where they also called for the recognition of Palestinian rights.
The rally has been preceded by a back and forth between Rome and Tehran over a call by Fini, during a visit to Jerusalem earlier this week, for Iran to be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions on the issue of the Islamic Republic”s nuclear aspirations.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi protested Fini”s stand, telling Iran”s official Islamic Republic News Agency Wednesday that "such a statement being made by the Italian foreign minister in occupied Palestinian territory is an example of the indifference to the massacre of defenseless Palestinians by Israel."
Fini defended his position, saying the international community had to maintain a "firm line" against Tehran, and said he had instructed the Italian ambassador there to tell the Iranians why "there has been so much indignation and concern" about Ahmadinejad”s remarks in Italy.
Italy has traditionally had good relations with Iran.