TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s president accused Israel on Wednesday of mass murder and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, two days after his denunciation of the Jewish state as racist prompted a walk-out from a U.N. meeting on race.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a conference in Tehran on Israel’s “genocide and war crimes” in Gaza that Iran had asked Interpol to arrest 25 “Zionist war criminals” for the assault on the Palestinian coastal strip in December and January.
Iran, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, said in December it had set up a court to try Israelis for attacking Gaza and that it was ready to try those it accused in absentia.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza killed 1,434 Palestinians, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including 3 by rockets fired into Israel.
The Israeli military said figures it gathered through intelligence sources and cross-referencing names showed 1,166 Palestinians, among them 709 “terror operatives,” were killed.
“Siege and mass murder of the Palestinians in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in other occupied areas are all considered as ... crimes committed by the Zionist regime,” Ahmadinejad told the meeting of prosecutors from Islamic countries.
His remarks were translated by English-language Press TV.
Last month, Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said Iran had drawn up charges against 34 Israeli commanders and 115 individuals, on charges including “war crimes, invasion, occupation, genocide and crimes against humanity.”
Israel, which Iran refers to as the “Zionist regime,” has promised its military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.
On Monday the Iranian president, who has questioned the Nazi Holocaust, denounced Israel at a United Nations conference on racism as a “totally racist government” founded “on the pretext of Jewish sufferings.”
Ahmadinejad’s comments caused European countries not already boycotting the Geneva conference to walk out but drew applause from Islamic delegations. U.S. President Barack Obama condemned his remarks as “appalling and objectionable.”
The Iranian president hit back, saying about Obama in a speech in the central town of Varamin later on Wednesday, “To show that he really wants to create changes he could attend this conference (in Geneva) and not just to sit there and condemn my speeches. This doesn’t help stop racism.”
And in Geneva, Iran on Wednesday rejected criticism of Ahmadinejad’s remarks from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who accused the Iranian president of misusing the conference, and participating delegations including Norway.
Tehran’s delegate said the Monday speech “contained neither any accusation nor any incitement as irresponsibly alleged” and that it was “deplorable” for high-ranking U.N. officials to shed their impartiality as Ban did with his public criticisms.
At the Tehran conference earlier in the day, Ahmadinejad said that the U.N. chief had asked him to make a “soft” speech in Geneva, but that he had rejected the request.
Ahmadinejad was criticized for attending the U.N. conference by his main moderate challenger in Iran’s June presidential election Mirhossein Mousavi, Iranian newspapers said.
Mousavi believes in a conciliatory foreign policy toward the West, unlike Ahmadinejad, who was the only head of state to address the Geneva meeting.
Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb in Tehran, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, and Laura MacInnis and Jonathan Lynn in Geneva; Writing by Fredrik Dahl and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Louise Ireland