By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, May 22 (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday denounced Israel as a “tumor” to be eliminated and hailed Tehran’s supply of weaponry to Palestinian armed groups fighting against it.
Opposition to Israel is a touchstone of belief for Shi’ite-led Iran, which backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic militant groups opposed to peace with the Jewish state, which Tehran refuses to recognize.
“The uprising by Palestinians should continue … fight to liberate Palestine is an obligation and an Islamic jihad … The Zionist regime (Israel) is a deadly, cancerous tumor in the region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed,” Iran’s top authority Khamenei said in an online speech.
Although leaders of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have frequently praised Iran’s financial and military support, Khamenei had not himself previously given public confirmation of Tehran’s weapons supply.
“Iran realised Palestinian fighters’ only problem was lack of access to weapons. With divine guidance and assistance, we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it,” he said.
Senior Iranian officials have called repeatedly over the years for an end to the Jewish state, including by a referendum in the region, where Palestinians are in the majority.
Khamenei reiterated the call in his speech on Quds Day, which uses the Arabic name for Jerusalem, held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The annual occasion was inaugurated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, late founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Khamenei suggested global attention on the coronavirus crisis had helped obscure wrongs done to Palestinians. “The long-lasting virus of Zionists will be eliminated,” he added.
Iran’s clerical rulers had to cancel annual nationwide rallies marking Quds Day due to the coronavirus outbreak. Iran is one of the most-affected countries in the region with 7,300 deaths and a total of 131,652 infections.
Khamenei also denounced what he called treason by “political and cultural mercenaries in Muslim countries” helping Zionists to downplay the Palestine issue, in an apparent reference to some Arab states including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
Several Persian Gulf states have backed a U.S. Middle East plan to end a conflict they say holds back the Arab world. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states to have peace deals with Israel.
(Editing by William Maclean)