- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, cheered by tens of thousands of supporters, yesterday stood by his call for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while Iran’s foreign ministry sought to defuse a diplomatic storm.

Marching alongside protesters chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel,” the 47-year-old former mayor of Tehran and one-time Republican Guard said: “They become upset when they hear any voice of truth-seeking. They think they are the absolute rulers of the world.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad made his declaration during the al-Quds — or Jerusalem — Day protest, which was among the largest ones since first held in 1979 after Shi’ite Muslim clerics took power in Iran.

Some protesters burned or trampled Israeli and U.S. flags.

It is not uncommon for an Iranian president to join marches in the capital. Mr. Ahmadinejad was accompanied by five bodyguards, but otherwise security was not out of the ordinary for such an event.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council yesterday added its voice to a chorus of condemnation for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s extremist remarks, a move immediately welcomed by the Israeli ambassador, Dan Gillerman.

“The Security Council condemns the remarks about Israel attributed to Mr. Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said a statement read by the president of the council for the month, Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc.

Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s continued attacks on the West, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani yesterday tried to tone down the rhetoric, suggesting that Israelis and Palestinians hold a referendum to decide the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

“If Muslims and Palestinians agree [to a referendum], it will be a retreat but let’s still hold a referendum,” Mr. Rafsanjani said in his Friday prayers sermon.

The Iranian Embassy in Moscow said Mr. Ahmadinejad “did not have any intention to speak in sharp terms and engage in a conflict.”

But that was not the message carried by the at least 200,000 Iranians who massed in Tehran to virulent condemn Israel, the United States and the West in general, accusing them of oppressing Palestinians and Iran.

Some demonstrators chanted “Israel is approaching its death” and wore white shrouds in a symbolic gesture expressing readiness to die for their cause.

A resolution was read at the end of the rallies backing “the position declared by the president that the Zionist regime must be wiped out.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki defended his president’s comments, saying they represented Iran’s long-held policy of not recognizing Israel.

“Unfortunately, the Western countries have remained silent on the increasing inhuman activities of Israel,” Mr. Mottaki said at the Tehran march.

Jerusalem Day protests attracted at least 100,000 in each of Iran’s other major cities and a total of more than a million nationwide, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Major rallies also were held in other Middle Eastern countries.

In Beirut, the militant Hezbollah organization marked the day by staging a parade that had more than 6,000 guerrillas marching in uniform through the streets of the Lebanese capital.

The Shi’ite group, which supports its Iranian mentors, has sought to strengthen its position in Lebanon after the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

At least 30,000 Bahrainis marched in their capital, Manama, burning Israeli and American flags and demanding their government rescind its recent decision to end its economic embargo of the Jewish state.

The United States said the Iranian leader’s remarks have only underscored Washington’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel said Iran should be suspended from the United Nations. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed “dismay” at the comments in a rare rebuke of a U.N. member state.

The Vatican condemned as “unacceptable” statements denying the right of Israel to exist, although it did not mention Iran by name.

Russia, a key ally of Iran, summoned the Iranian ambassador, seeking an explanation for the remarks.

Iran’s seven state-run TV stations devoted coverage yesterday to programs condemning the Jewish state and praising the Palestinian resistance since the 1948 creation of Israel.

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