TEHRAN — Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a pro-Palestinian rally on Friday that revived Middle East peace talks are "doomed" to fail, as Islamist militiamen stopped one of his arch rivals from attending the annual march.
Calling Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas a hostage of Israel, Ahmadinejad said the talks that he began with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Thursday lacked legitimacy as he had no right to make concessions in the name of the Palestinian people.
"What do they want to negotiate about? Who are they representing? What are they going to talk about?" he asked rhetorically about Abbas's negotiating team.
"Who gave them the right to sell a piece of Palestinian land? The people of Palestine and the people of the region will not allow them to sell even an inch of Palestinian soil to the enemy. The negotiations are stillborn and doomed."
Iran implacably opposes the new talks and has given strong support to the Islamist movement Hamas, which carried out two attacks against Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank that killed four people and cast a pall over the talks relaunch.
"The fate of Palestine will be decided in Palestine and by the resistance of Palestinians and not in Washington, Paris or London," Ahmadinejad said.
Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has organised annual Palestinian solidarity marches across the country on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This year's rallies came just a day after Abbas resumed direct talks with Israel, which he broke off in December 2008 when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands of Iranians poured on to streets around the country shouting "Death to America! Death to Israel!".
Several demonstrators carried caricatures of US President Barack Obama, while others hoisted banners saying "Quds (Jerusalem) is Ours" and urging a boycott of firms doing business with Israel.
"Inshallah. One day we will pray in Quds," said state television's news anchor as he introduced coverage of the marches. The Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the city's annexed Arab eastern sector is Islam's third holiest site.
Ahmadinejad told the Tehran rally the people of the Middle East were capable of "removing" Israel even if their leaders chose not to, echoing his past predictions of the Jewish state's demise that outraged Western governments.
"If the leaders of the region do not have the guts, then the people of the region are capable of removing the Zionist regime from the world scene," he said.
The region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, Israel has never ruled out a military strike to prevent Iran acquiring an atomic weapons capability, an ambition Tehran strongly denies.
But Ahmadinejad dismissed any Israeli threat to Iran's nuclear programme which his government has continued despite four sets of UN sanctions.
"The Zionist regime is nothing and even its (Western) masters are too small to conduct any kind of aggression against Iran and the rights of the Iranian people," he said to chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) from the crowd.
His view was echoed by General Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, who said he "hoped that we do not have to target the nuclear facility" of Israel if Iran is attacked.
Meanwhile, Iranian hardliners surrounded the house of Ahmadinejad's arch-rival and opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi's from early Friday, Karroubi's website sahamnews.org said.
"The aim of these people is to prevent him from participating in the Quds Day rally," it said.
Last year the opposition used the gathering to organise protests against Ahmadinejad's controversial re-election that June.
The siege of Karroubi's home came after several militiamen, some carrying guns, attacked his residential building late on Thursday for a second night in a row and seriously wounded his chief bodyguard.
"The attackers opened fire and threw Molotov cocktails at the building," the website said, adding: "Mr Karroubi's chief bodyguard was badly beaten up and had to be taken to hospital."
Karroubi and his fellow opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have remained steadfast in rejecting the official results of the presidential election, which they say was massively rigged.
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