Oil Report

UPDATE 2-Iran leader orders Muslims to defend Palestinians

(Adds quotes, background)

TEHRAN, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks “in any way possible”, state television reported.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also declared Monday a day of public mourning in Iran after Israel killed more than 280 Palestinians in two days of air strikes on Gaza.

“All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world’s pious people are obliged to defend the defenceless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible,” Khamenei said.

“Whoever is killed in this legitimate defence, is considered a martyr,” he said in a statement.

A religious decree is an official statement by a ranking religious leader that commands Muslims to carry out its message. While there is no religious and legal force behind it, Khamenei is respected by many Iranian and non-Iranian Shi’ites.

Iran refuses to recognise Israel, which accuses Tehran of supplying Hamas Islamists with weapons. Iran denies the claim, saying it only provides moral support to the group.

Israeli leaders said their campaign was a response to almost daily rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants that intensified after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.

Khamenei criticised some Arab governments for their lack of response towards the Israeli raids.

“The even greater catastrophe is the encouraging silence of some Arab governments who claim to be Islamic,” he said, also accusing the West of being indifferent to the killing of Palestinians.

Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful authority, urged Muslim countries to punish Israeli leaders.

“The officials of this regime ... should be tried and punished for this crime by Islamic governments.”

Khamenei’s remarks were interpreted by some oil traders as a hint that Iran was calling on oil-producing Arab countries to disrupt energy shipments to Israel.

The West accuses Iran of covertly trying to build nuclear bomb, a charge rejected by Tehran.

But Israel’s insistence that the Islamic state must not be allowed to develop atomic weapons has fuelled speculation that the Jewish state, widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, could mount its own pre-emptive strike.

Various protests were held in Tehran on Sunday, including one by Iranian lawmakers chanting “Death to Israel”.

Iran is ready to receive Palestinians wounded in the raids, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said.

Tehran denounced Israel’s attacks as “unforgivable” on Saturday. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the raids showed Israel’s “weakness”. (Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Giles Elgood)