TEHRAN, Iran – The president of Iran again lashed out at Israel on Friday and said it was "heading toward annihilation," just days after Tehran raised fears about its nuclear activities by saying it successfully enriched uranium for the first time.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a "permanent threat" to the Middle East that will "soon" be liberated. He also appeared to again question whether the Holocaust really happened.
"Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation," Ahmadinejad said at the opening of a conference in support of the Palestinians. "The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm."
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his address to the conference, accused the United States of plotting to bring the Mideast region under Israeli control.
Ahmadinejad provoked a world outcry in October when he said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
On Friday, he repeated his previous line on the Holocaust, saying: "If such a disaster is true, why should the people of this region pay the price? Why does the Palestinian nation have to be suppressed and have its land occupied?"
The land of Palestine, he said, referring to the British mandated territory that includes all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, "will be freed soon."
He did not say how this would be achieved, but insisted to the audience of at least 900 people: "Believe that Palestine will be freed soon."
"The existence of this (Israeli) regime is a permanent threat" to the Middle East, he added. "Its existence has harmed the dignity of Islamic nations."
The three-day conference on Palestine is being attended by officials of Hamas, the ruling party in the Palestinian territories.
Khamenei accused the Bush administration of plotting against his and other Mideast countries.
"The chain of plots by the American government against Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — aimed at governing the Middle East through the control of the Zionist regime — will not succeed," he said.
He also indicated that Iran will support the cash-strapped, Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories, but he did not mention financial aid.
"The great Islamic nation cannot ... be indifferent and remain silent on the injustice done to you," Khamenei said, referring to Muslim states. "The Islamic nation is required to assit you in any way it can."
Iran has previously said it will give money to the Palestinian Authority to make up for the withdrawal of donations by Western nations who object to Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. But no figure has been published.
On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium using a battery of 164 centrifuges, a significant step toward the large-scale production of enriched uranium required for either fueling nuclear reactors or making nuclear weapons.
The United States, France and Israel accuse Iran of using a civilian nuclear program to secretly build a weapon. Iran denies this, saying its program is confined to generating electricity.
The U.N. Security Council has given Iran until April 28 to cease enrichment. But Iran has rejected the demand.
The chief of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, was quoted Wednesday as saying Iran could develop a nuclear bomb "within three years, by the end of the decade."