Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iran says 70,000 volunteer to battle Israel over Gaza

RELIGIOUS DECREE The hardliners signed up volunteers after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said those killed defending Gaza would become martyrs

AP , TEHRAN

More than 70,000 Iranian students have volunteered to carry out suicide bombings against Israel, Iran’s state news agency reported on Monday, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not responded to their request for permission.

Volunteer suicide groups have made similar requests in the past and the government never responded, giving the campaigns more of the feel of propaganda.

SUPPORTING HAMAS

IRNA news agency said that hardline student leader Esmaeil Ahmadi said the students wanted to fight Israel in support of Hamas.

Iran is Hamas’ main backer, though the country denies sending weapons to the Islamic militant movement that took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Iran considers Israel its archenemy, and Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Five hardline student groups and a conservative clerical group launched the registration drive for suicide bombers last week and asked the government to allow them to stage the attacks.

OPEN LETTER

In an open letter to Ahmadinejad, the students said “volunteer student suicide groups ... are determined to go to Gaza. You are expected to issue orders to the relevant authorities to pave the way for such action.”

A copy of the letter was made available to The Associated Press last week.

The hardliners started signing up volunteers after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious decree on Dec. 28 saying anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks would be considered a martyr.

Khamenei’s religious decree was not considered a government decision and did not oblige the government to launch attacks against Israel.

GATHERING

At a gathering two days later in Tehran, hardliners distributed registration forms.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed hundreds of Palestinians, has outraged many in Iran and throughout the rest of the Muslim world. Israel says it launched its campaign in retaliation for Hamas rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.

On Dec. 30, IRNA reported that dozens of Iranian students broke into the British embassy residence in Tehran, accusing Britain of supporting the Israeli air assault that started on Dec. 27.

The report said the students pulled down the British flag and raised a Palestinian flag at the compound’s entrance before police forced them to leave.

The protest lasted about half an hour, and no injuries were reported.

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