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Iranian Religious Leader Urges Support for Hezbollah


A senior Iranian religious leader Friday defended Hezbollah and called on Muslims and non-Muslims alike to rally to its support. Iran has had a long and close association with Hezbollah, which the U.S. lists as a terrorist group.

Friday prayers in Tehran are traditionally a cross between a religious revival meeting and a political rally, and this Friday was no exception.

After his sermon on the piety of the Prophet Mohammad's daughter Fatima, whose birthday is this Sunday, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, the designated leader for this Friday's prayers, turned to more current affairs for his second sermon, which is usually the political one.

Kashani lashed out at Israel for its attacks on Lebanon and praised Hezbollah, the virulently anti-Israel Islamic militia that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

Kashani said Hezbollah had total legal and political justification to act as it did because Israel refused to release Palestinian prisoners.

He said it was the religious duty of Muslims to support Hezbollah, and called on Muslims and non-Muslims alike to encourage the group.

Kashani's exhortations were met with chants of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America."

After the prayers, there was a "death to Israel' rally near the prayer site.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also had some harsh rhetoric about Israel and the West during a trip this week to northern Iran. The Iranian Student News Agency reported that President Ahmadinejad called Syrian President Bashir Assad, and quotes the Iranian leader as saying that any attack by Israel on Syria would be considered a call to war by the Islamic world.

There are reports that Hezbollah was trying to move the two captured Israeli soldiers to Iran, but there has been no confirmation of that here or elsewhere.

Iran and Hezbollah have long been linked. Founded in Lebanon in 1982 after the Israeli invasion, Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim organization that took its inspiration from the 1979 Iranian revolution. Most Western analysts believe it gets considerable support from the Iranian government. The United States lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

The organization, which also holds seats in the Lebanese parliament, has strong support among most Iranians.

Hussain Geraee, who describes himself as a "low-ranking civil servant", says Iranians are willing to fight to the death to defend Hezbollah, just as they did in the long Iran-Iraq war.