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Bin Laden calls for jihad against Israel

CAIRO, Egypt – Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to launch a jihad against Israel, seeking to harness anger over the Gaza offensive with a new message posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

The al-Qaida chief vowed to open “new fronts” against the U.S. and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and also criticized Arab leaders, accusing most of them of being allies of the U.S. and Israel.

Bin Laden spoke in a 22-minute audiotape posted on Islamic militant Web sites where al-Qaida usually issues its messages. The 51-year-old al-Qaida leader has been in hiding since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, believed to be living somewhere along the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

It was bin Laden’s first tape since May and came nearly three weeks after Israel launched the offensive against Hamas.

He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a “heavy inheritance” from George W. Bush – two wars and “the collapse of the economy.” He predicted that burden will render the U.S. unable to sustain a long fight against the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

There is “only one strong way to bring the return of Al-Aqsa and Palestine, and that is jihad in the path of God,” bin Laden said, referring to the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “The duty is to urge people to jihad and to enlist the youth into jihad brigades.”

The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed.

“It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant at a time when al-Qaida’s ideology, mission and agenda are being questioned and challenged throughout the world,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.

The tape, entitled “A call for jihad to stop the aggression on Gaza,” was played over a picture of bin Laden and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. There were no English subtitles or the flashy production graphics that usually accompany such messages.

That suggested the message had been hastily put together to exploit Muslim anger over the Gaza offensive.

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