TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday lashed out at Israel and the West, questioning whether the Holocaust ever happened and claiming it was a pretext for occupying Palestinian lands, reiterating anti-Israel rhetoric that has brought him international condemnation.
The Iranian president said Israel was formed on a "false and mythical claim" and expressed doubts whether the Holocaust, when the Nazis killed 6 million Jews during World War II, was a "real event."
Ahmadinejad spoke in an address to worshippers before Friday prayers at the Tehran University campus as Iran commemorated Quds Day, an annual government-organized day of mass rallies aimed at showing the Islamic Republic's sympathy for the Palestinians. Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem.
"If the Holocaust was a real event, why don't they allow research on it to clear up facts," said Ahmadinejad.
As he spoke, tens of thousands of government supporters and thousands of pro-opposition activists held competing rallies across Tehran, underscoring the crisis that has gripped the country since Ahmadinejad's June re-election for a second term in office.
Ahmadinejad's questioning of the Holocaust and repeated predictions of Israel's demise have drawn international condemnation. Even some Iranians have criticized him for needlessly provoking the West with the rhetoric, but Ahmadinejad has persisted, apparently seeking to burnish his reputation for defying Iran's rivals and to drum up support among ordinary Iranians who see the Palestinian suffering as an injustice sponsored by the West.
Ahmadinejad also on Friday accused world powers of double standards in favor of Israel and of disregarding violations of Palestinian rights.
The U.N. and world powers, Ahmadinejad said, "issue (anti-Iran) resolutions when a cat is run over by a truck on the streets here, but when it comes to Israel, they cover up (Israeli) crimes."
Ahmadinejad repeated his old predictions that Israel would soon cease to exist and urged people to stand up against the "Zionist regime as a national and moral duty."
The very existence of the Jewish state "jeopardizes" the whole region, he added. "The Zionist regime is the symbol of lies and deception. Its existence amounts to eternal insecurity in the region."
Ahmadinejad pledged Iran's full support for Palestinians and said Quds Day was the "day of unity" for Iranians, Muslims and the international community. Pro-Palestinian marches were also held elsewhere in the Mideast, in the Syrian capital Damascus and the West Bank.