Iranian Leader Renews Attack on Israel at Palestinian Rally

By NAZILA FATHI

New York Times

April 15, 2006

TEHRAN, April 14 — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that Israel was a "constant threat" and predicted that it was on the verge of "being eliminated."

His comments, which echoed his remark last year about "wiping Israel off the map," were made at a three-day conference on Palestine that has brought together Palestinian militant leaders and their supporters from Muslim countries.

"The Zionist regime is an injustice and by its very nature a permanent threat," Mr. Ahmadinejad said during his speech at the conference. "Whether you like it or not, the Zionist regime is on the road to being eliminated." He referred to Israel as a "rotten, dried tree" that would collapse in "one storm."

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said: "If there is serious doubt over the Holocaust, there is no doubt over the catastrophe and holocaust being faced by the Palestinians. Holocaust has been continuing in Palestine over the past 60 years."

Mr. Ahmadinejad produced outrage in the West last year when he threatened Israel and called the Holocaust a "myth." Although his comments Friday were somewhat more temperate, they were largely in keeping with his strategy of appealing to the Arab world and to conservative forces in Iran.

Among the participants in the conference were Khaled Mashaal, a top figure in Hamas, and Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, the head of the militant group Islamic Jihad, which is supported by Iran. At the conference, Tehran urged other Muslim nations to join it in sending money to Hamas to make up for the withdrawal of donations by the United States and the European Union after the group's election victory and control of the Palestinian government.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a political analyst in Tehran, said the conference seemed to be part of the Iranian government's strategy of building political support by appealing to its conservative base.

"Israel is the best issue they can point to in order to mobilize their supporters," Mr. Zeidabadi said, referring to the Iranian leadership. "Israel has occupied part of the Islamic and Arab land and the West supports it. This way they can question the whole Western culture and say that what the West says about democracy and human rights is a lie and therefore what we have is right. This argument gives legitimacy to the Iranian regime."

In an opening speech to the gathering, Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced the policies of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its support for Israel.

"The bitter taste of liberal democracy, which the United States wanted to present as a solution, has hurt the Islamic nations," he said, pointing to the prisoner abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, and at the United States detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.