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Iranian Ayatollah Chides Saudi FM

A prominent Iranian cleric has criticized Saudi Arabia's foreign minister for his recent remarks about Iran.

During Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami chastised Prince Saud al-Faisal, saying his comments sounded like the foreign minister of Israel, Iran's arch-foe.

The Saudi diplomat earlier this week called on his fellow Arabs to join together to confront what he termed the "Iranian challenge" posed by the non-Arab nation's nuclear program and its intentions pertaining to security in the Gulf.

Ayatollah Khatami, in a sermon carried by Iranian state radio, said Israel is trying to "distract" Arabs. He added that Iran's nuclear program is an honor for the Islamic world.

The Saudi official's comments were just one of several questioning Iran's role in the region this week. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Iran to stop interfering in Palestinian affairs.

His comments coincided with a Tehran conference in support of Abbas rival Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

At the conference, Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Israel, which fought a war against Hamas in Gaza early this year, is a "cancerous tumor," remarks that drew the ire of western diplomats.

Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, Thursday postponed a planned trip to Iran over the characterization, as well as anti-American comments by Iranian officials. Italy also criticized the Gaza conference in Tehran, saying it is counterproductive.