TEHRAN — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an annual anti-Israel protest in Tehran on Friday that the Jewish state was a "cancerous tumour" that will soon be excised, drawing a strong US rebuke.
US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told AFP that if Iran was as concerned about human rights as Ahmadinejad said in his speech in support of the Palestinians, then it should stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Ahmadinejad's diatribe against Israel in his Quds (Jerusalem) Day address was the latest in a long line to have drawn criticism from Western governments.
"The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumour," he said.
"The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land.... A new Middle East will definitely be formed. With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists," he said.
The diatribe took place amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
The Jewish state has in recent weeks intensified its threats to possibly bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it having the capability to produce atomic weapons.
Iran, which is suffering under severe Western sanctions, denies its nuclear programme is anything but peaceful. Its military has warned it will destroy Israel if it attacks.
"They (the Israelis) know very well they don't have the ability" to successfully attack Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"If they make a mistake, our nation's reaction will lead to the end of the Zionist regime," he said.
State television showed crowds marching under blazing sunshine in Tehran and other Iranian cities to mark Quds Days, an annual commemoration launched by the founder of the Islamic republic, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just after the 1979 revolution that brought him to power.
Demonstrators held up Palestinian flags and pictures of Khomeini's successor as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and banners reading "Death to Israel" and "Death to America."
The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, told the Fars news agency as he attended the Tehran rally that "the Iranian nation has always been at the forefront of the (regional anti-Israeli) resistance in showing its animosity with Israel."
He added that Iran intended to maintain that virulent stance.
Ahmadinejad, in his speech, claimed that "Zionists" triggered World Wars I and II, and had "taken control over world affairs since the moment they became dominant over the US government."
The US National Security Council spokesman said Ahmadinejad's comments were "hateful and divisive."
"We strongly condemn the latest series of offensive and reprehensible comments by senior Iranian officials that are aimed at Israel," Vietor said.
"The entire international community should condemn this hateful and divisive rhetoric."