Iran marks Jerusalem Day after 2-year pandemic suspension

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Thousands of Iranians marched in the capital of Tehran on Friday to mark “Quds Day,” or Jerusalem Day, a traditional show of support for the Palestinians. It was the first time such marches were held since before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran has been marking the day, the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, since the start of its 1979 Islamic Revolution led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The name Quds Day comes after the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Demonstrators chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” — slogans that have become tradition in mass rallies in Iran since its revolution — and set fire to American, British and Israeli flags.

Iranian state TV later showed a variety of ballistic missiles on display at the rally, describing them as “Israel hitters.”

Iran does not recognize Israel and supports the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, militant groups that oppose it. Israel views Iran as its archenemy in the Middle East.

The rallies all headed to Tehran University, where the ceremony ended at Friday’s noon prayers. Similar rallies took place in other Iranian cities and towns.

State news agency IRNA quoted a general of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary force, known as the Quds force, as saying that Iran backs all groups ready to fight Israel.

“We support any front that is formed against this criminal regime, and we will support any community that is ready to fight this criminal regime,” Gen. Esmail Ghaani said at a speech in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

Many high-ranking Iranian officials attended the rally in Tehran, including hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi and the powerful Guard commander, Gen. Mohammad Salami.

Salami warned Israel that it would face a “painful response” if it takes any offensive action against Iran. “If the slightest act of evil is being taken by you, you know better than me what will befall you,” he said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a speech broadcast live on television condemned unnamed Arab states in the Persian Gulf for normalizing ties with Israel, referring to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“We condemn the treacherous move to normalize relations” with Israel, he said, and reiterated Iran’s support for the Palestinian cause.

“We have always said this, we have always acted on this, and we have stood by it,” Khamenei said.