Iran’s highest authority lashed out against Israel on Friday with some of his harshest comments in recent memory about the Jewish state.
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the black-turbaned ayatollah who is Iran’s top political and military figure, said his country’s hostility to Israel extended beyond the government to the Israeli people as well. In doing so, he brushed aside recent overtures by top Iranian officials to ordinary people in the Jewish state.
Khamenei said Iran and Israel were on a “collision course,” a statement that could increase tensions in a Middle East already fearful of a conflict between the countries.
“Who are Israelis?” Khamenei told thousands of worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in downtown Tehran. “They are responsible for usurping houses, territory, farmlands and businesses. They are combatants at the disposal of Zionist operatives. A Muslim nation cannot remain indifferent vis-a-vis such people who are stooges at the service of the arch-foes of the Muslim world.”
Iran and Israel are locked in a war of words. Israel accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful energy program and supporting anti-Israeli militant groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Iran’s leaders repeatedly have called for the destruction of the Jewish state, which they consider a Western colonial outpost.
Human rights monitors deported
A leading Human Rights Watch monitor who was abruptly put on the first plane leaving Venezuela early Friday said his expulsion shows the intolerance of President Hugo Chavez’s government to criticism.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the rights group’s longtime Americas director, told the Associated Press in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that “we were forcibly expelled from the country as if we were criminals.”
“This the first time that this has happened to us in the hemisphere,” said an exhausted Vivanco after arriving in Brazil with his deputy director Daniel Wilkinson, an American.
Both were expelled for what Chavez’s government called “illegally meddling in the internal affairs” of Venezuela.
The two were forced onto the first flight out just hours after presenting a report by their New York-based group concluding that “discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature” of the Chavez presidency.