DUBAI Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday called for a referendum canvassing the Arabs and Jews that live in Israel in order to end the "Zionist state", but said until such a vote could be held, armed resistance was necessary.
Khamenei and his predecessor the Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini have called repeatedly over the years for an end to the Jewish state, including through a referendum in the region, where Palestinians are in the majority.
In his first official comments on Israel since the start of its offensive on the Gaza Strip on July 8, Khamenei reiterated the call.
"There are logical and practical means to this end, which is for people who live and belong there to pick the government of their choice through a referendum. That would be the end of a usurping fake regime," Khamenei, who has the last word in all matters in Shi'te Muslim Iran, said in a speech to university students in Tehran.
Until then, Khamenei said, "while waiting for an end to this cold-blooded murderous regime, mighty armed resistance is the only way to deal with it."
Khamenei made clear for the first time that he was talking about the dismantling of the state of Israel, not the death of Jews.
"Israel's annihilation is the only real cure, but that doesn't mean destroying Jews in this region," he said in his speech, which was posted on his website.
Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is trying to improve ties with Western countries, including the United States, in a public relations war with Israel.
Israel launched its offensive to halt rocket salvoes by Hamas and its allies, which have struggled under an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade on Gaza and been angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.
As of the end of Wednesday, 687 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 32 Israeli soldiers had died in the fighting.
Iran is to mark "International Qods Day," an annual event falling on the last Friday of Ramadan, with nationwide organized demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians and against Israel.
(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)