[attached picture is chosen by I.C.E - Photo: AP]
By Steven Erlanger
Saturday, October 13, 2007
JERUSALEM: The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Saturday called for all Muslim countries to boycott an American-sponsored meeting for Middle East peace that is planned for late November.
"Efforts are being made to once again make an imposition on the Palestinian people in the name of peace," said Ayatollah Khamenei in a sermon marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, giving it special significance. "The result of all conferences held in the name of peace so far have been to the detriment of the Palestinian nation." He said that the aim of the meeting "is to rescue the Zionist regime," meaning Israel.
The ayatollah is Iran's supreme authority, outranking the voluble president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in power and credibility. But both share the view that the state of Israel has no right to exist, and Iran has consistently opposed all Palestinian-Israeli peace accords.
Iran is also the main sponsor of Hezbollah, the radical Islamic Shiite group in southern Lebanon that fought a war with Israel last summer. Furthermore, Iran is a major sponsor of Hamas, the radical Palestinian Sunni group that runs Gaza, and the prime sponsor of Islamic Jihad, a smaller radical grouping that has opposed any cease-fire with Israel.
On Friday, Hamas leaders in Gaza and in Damascus also called on the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, to boycott the meeting. Their comments appear to have been coordinated with Iran.
All these groups share the view that Israel cannot remain on land they claim was given to Muslims by Allah, and all have opposed the negotiations between Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
Those talks are expected to intensify on Sunday with the arrival in Israel and the Palestinian territories of the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. The international meeting to bless the results of these talks was Rice's idea, and the American intention is to invite Arab nations who support a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Washington is also expected to invite Sunni Syria, which hosts the political headquarters in exile of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is considered in a loose alliance with Iran. But Syria is not opposed to a Palestinian state so long as negotiations also mean the return to Damascus of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.
Syria has said that it will not attend the meeting, reportedly to be held at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, beginning on Nov. 26, unless there is a substantive document that embodies concrete decisions leading toward a Palestinian state.
Abbas, who is said to have had frank and open discussions with Olmert, has said that he believes that a final peace deal can be done within six months after the Annapolis meeting. Olmert has talked about the need for peace, but key members of his cabinet, and Israelis in general, are skeptical about the timing.
Early Saturday, an Israeli air strike in response to a mortar attack killed a Hamas militant, Hassan Naem, 20, and wounded five people in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun.