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Iran's anti-Israel rallies, a tradition during Ramadan, this year include ballistic missiles

Iran's anti-Israel rallies, a tradition during Ramadan, this year include ballistic missiles
Iranian protesters burn representations of U.S. and Israeli flags and pictures of U.S. and British heads of state and Israel's prime minister in their annual pro-Palestinian rally. (Ebrahim Noroozi / Associated Press)

Thousands of Iranians participated Friday in annual anti-Israel rallies, a heavily stage-managed show of support for the Palestinian territories that included displays of ballistic missiles.

The rallies on Quds Day, after an ancient Arabic name for Jerusalem, included the usual signs condemning Israel and the United States — along with placards denouncing Saudi Arabia, its Sunni Muslim rival.

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Protesters were bused into Tehran, the capital, or rode on subway trains whose fares were temporarily lifted. Demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags while others posed for selfies in front of yellow-painted missiles – including the Zolfaghar, the type Iran fired this week at alleged Islamic State targets in Syria.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force said it fired six Zolfaghar missiles on Sunday on the city of Deir el-Zour, one of Islamic State's last remaining strongholds in Syria. Iran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad and is in an escalating confrontation with Saudi Arabia, which backs anti-Assad rebels.

The missile strikes were Iran's first in more than a decade, according to reports, and came in response to attacks this month on the parliament building and a shrine in Tehran that were blamed on Islamic State militants.

Speaking at the Friday prayer ceremony at Tehran University following the march, firebrand clergyman Ahmad Khatami said that Iran would continue its missile program despite warnings from the Trump administration.

"The missiles shot at Daesh were mid-range — you can imagine the power of our long-range missile," Khatami said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Ballistic missiles are displayed during a rally marking Quds Day in Tehran.
Ballistic missiles are displayed during a rally marking Quds Day in Tehran. (AFP/Getty Images)

The annual protests held on the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan are organized by Iran's hard-line Shiite Muslim establishment as a show of support for the Palestinian people. Iran does not recognize Israel and backs militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, that oppose the Jewish state.

President Hassan Rouhani and other top officials attended the rallies while state television repeatedly played a song whose lyrics proclaimed that Israel "will be wiped out."

Standing in the shade on a warm morning, Zia Zahedi, a white-turbaned clergyman, said protesters were showing their support as Muslims for "any oppressed people, wherever they live."

"We are here to express our hatred against Saudi Arabia, Israel and America," said Zahedi, 57. "The Saudi Arabian regime is not Muslim — they are allies of Israel."

Sadegh Sofiyani ,a retired teacher, said protesters were "soldiers of the supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said in 2015 that Israel would cease to exist in 25 years.

"We are ready to shed our last drop of blood in any war against Israel, or in defending holy shrines in Syria and Iraq against Daesh, no matter the cost," Sofiyani said.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

Follow @SBengali on Twitter

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