March 2, 2008 / 7:57 PM / in 11 years

Iran leader calls on Muslims to hit Israel "in face"

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s top cleric on Sunday called on Muslims to rise up and their leaders to hit Israel “in the face with their nations’ anger” over the Jewish state’s offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 100 Palestinians.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also blamed Iran’s other arch foe, the United States, for Israel’s “military crimes” in Gaza and said “the hands of the U.S. government are smeared with the blood of the innocent Palestinian nation.”

Opposition to Israel is one of the cornerstones of belief of Shi’ite Iran, which backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic militant groups opposed to peace with the country.

“It is with the support of that oppressive government (the U.S.) that the Zionists (Israel) are committing these unforgivable sins with impudence,” a statement read out on state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

“The Islamic (people) must rise and the Islamic leaders must hit the occupying regime (Israel) in the face with their nations’ anger,” the statement said.

It came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace negotiations with Israel, demanding it end the offensive.

Israel said it was acting in self-defence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to curb constant cross-border rocket attacks by militants and threatened to intensify its ground and air campaign despite allegations it was using excessive force.

A 21-month-old Palestinian girl, two other civilians and three militants were killed in the latest fighting in the Gaza Strip, raising the Palestinian death toll in five days of bloodshed to more than 100, medical officials said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Israel of using “excessive force”. He demanded a halt to air and ground attacks that killed 61 people on Saturday, the bloodiest day for Palestinians since the 1980s, and militants’ rocket salvoes.

Iran does not recognize Israel and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has often predicted the imminent demise of the Jewish state, last month likened it to a “savage animal” in comments that were condemned in the West.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since after Iran’s 1979 revolution and are now embroiled in a deepening rift over Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West says is a cover to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies it.

Khamenei, the spiritual heir of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, said: “Does the U.S. nation know that its leaders are sacrificing human honor at the feet of the Zionists in such a way?”

His statement added: “The final outcome of this confrontation will be the victory of justice over falsehood.”

Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Boyle

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