Iranian media are quoting the country's vice president as saying Iranians are "friends of all people in the world — even Israelis."

It is a rare comment from a government official in Iran, whose president regularly calls for Israel's destruction.

Several newspapers and the official Web site of Iran's tourism agency on Monday attributed the comment to Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who is in charge of Iranian tourism and historical sites.

It is believed to be the first time an official Iranian government Web site has carried an expression of sympathy by an Iranian vice president toward Israelis.

Mashai stressed, however, that his comments did not constitute recognition of Israel's legitimacy.

In late July, Mashai made similar comments, saying: "Iran wants no war with any country, and today Iran is friend of the United States and even Israel.... Our achievements belong to the whole world and should be used for expanding love and peace."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted international criticism when he said in 2005 that he believed Israel would one day be "wiped off the map."