Iran's supreme ruler backs president over anti-Israel comments

By News Agencies

Iran's supreme ruler came out in support of his maligned president on Saturday, who created an international storm by demanding Israel be moved to Europe and casting doubt on whether the Holocaust happened.

"The unusual sensitivity of Zionists and their American supporters toward Iran's stance over the Zionist state reveals their increased weakness and fear about the level of attention given by Islamic nations to the Palestinian issue," state-run Iranian radio quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.

"Despite the Zionist's campaign, the struggle against the occupiers has become an old and thick tree in the Islamic world such that the arrogant powers could not sever its roots," he added.

Khamenei did not refer specifically to Ahmadinejad's remarks made Thursday in Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of a Saudi Arabian summit of more than 50 Islamic nations, convened to show a Muslim front against terrorism.

But the United States, Israel, Europe, United Nations and even Iranian ally Russia condemned Ahmadinejad for casting doubt on whether the Nazi Holocaust took place and suggesting Europe give land for a Jewish state if it felt guilty about it.

Khamenei has ultimate say on all issues in Iran and backed similar controversial remarks made in October by Ahmadinejad, who said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Later, state-run television quote Khamenei as saying the world should vote on the status of Israel and the Palestinian territories, a suggestion previously floated by other Iranian officials.

"Nations would support Iran's proposal for holding a referendum on Palestine to decide about the future of the land," he said.

Ahmadinejad emerged from the hard-line establishment as a surprise victor in June elections on a platform of helping Iran's poor and a return to the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Since taking office, he has pushed hard-core rhetoric recalling the revolution's leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Iran plans to hold an international conference on "Support Palestine's Islamic Revolution" in April 2006.

Nobel peace laureate and UN nuclear watchdog agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei appeared to warn Israel not to bomb Iranian atomic facilities in a newspaper interview published Saturday.

"You cannot use force to prevent a country from obtaining nuclear weapons. By bombing them half to death, you can only delay the plans," ElBaradei was quoted as saying by the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten. "But they will come back, and they will demand revenge."

ElBaradei was in the Norwegian capital to accept the Nobel Peace Prize awarded jointly to him and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The report said ElBaradei did not mention Israel but it was clear he was referring to Israel's increasingly open discussion over whether to protect itself by bombing Iranian facilities it suspects are being used in a possible secret nuclear weapons program.

Mofaz: Israel needs 'other' solutions to Iranian threat
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Saturday he was not interested in discussing the Iranian issue.

"We have made it clear that the policy of the state of Israel is to put the Iran issue to the Security Council and that the diplomatic channel is the proper one to deal with this matter at this time," he told Israel Radio.

However, on Friday Mofaz spoke harshly against Ahmadenijad saying Israel must prepare solutions "other than diplomatic" in the face of Tehran's persistent advancement of its nuclear program.

Speaking on a visit to the market at Hatikva neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Mofaz said, "the right move would be to let a diplomatic approach guide us, but we must also prepare other solutions."

The defense minister referred to Ahmadenijad as an "Israel hater" adding that "the combination of extreme hatred and nuclear capabilities certainly threatens the State of Israel and Western countries."

Mofaz commented on a speech Ahmadenijad made on Thursday in which he questioned the extent of the Holocaust and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.

World leaders, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, condemned these remarks.

"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," the IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "We don't accept this claim," he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe - like in Germany, Austria or other countries - to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe," he said at a conference in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. "You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

Annan expresses shock
Annan expressed shock at the comments and pointed to a UN General Assembly resolution last month that rejected "any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part."

He urged all UN members to "combat such denial and to educate their populations about the well established historical facts of the Holocaust, in which one third of the Jewish people were murdered along with countless members of other minorities."

In October, Annan and many other leaders criticized Ahmadinejad for saying Israel should be wiped off the map.

Thursday's comments also elicited quick condemnation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called them "totally unacceptable."

At a press conference with French President Jacques Chirac near Berlin, Merkel also said: "With our historical responsibility in mind, I can only say that we reject [the comments] in the harshest possible terms. We will do everything to make it clear that Israel's right to existence is in no way endangered. I am firmly convinced that a majority in the international community has a similar opinion on this issue." Chirac said he agreed completely.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he condemns the comments "unreservedly," adding, "They have no place in civilized political debate."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "It just further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran and it's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons."

Russia also condemned Ahmadinejad's comments on Friday.

"It is difficult to comment on such unacceptable remarks,"
the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "There are well-known historical facts concerning World War Two, including the Holocaust. These facts cannot be revised and this should be understood by everyone."