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Iran's Rouhani Calls Israel a 'Cancer,' Urges Muslims to Unite Against US

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends an annual Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday called on Muslims including those in Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional rival to oppose the United States. He also labeled Israel a "fake regime" created by Western nations, and likened its formation following World War II to "a cancerous tumor in the region."

Speaking at the annual Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Rouhani said the U.S. wants to enslave the Middle East. He said regional Muslim nations should stop "rolling out the red carpet for criminals," a thinly-veiled criticism of Saudi Arabia and other regional nations that have close ties to the U.S.

Shiite-dominated Iran and Saudi Arabia, ruled by a Sunni king, are often on opposite sides of conflicts in the Middle East. Most notably, Iran backs the Houthi rebels in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, while Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Sunni nations supporting the Yemeni government. The two nations haven't had diplomatic ties in nearly three years, following Iran's execution of a Shi'ite cleric.
Despite those differences, Rouhani said Iran considers the Saudis "brothers."

"We do consider the people of Mecca and Media [Islam's holiest cities, located in Saudi Arabia] our brothers," Rouhani said. He added that Iran is prepared to defend Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region from "terrorism and superpowers."

The U.S. has been a frequent target for fiery rhetoric from Iranian leaders since the 1979 revolution that deposed the U.S.-backed shah. But the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year to withdraw from a nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and major world powers — and to consequently restore some sanctions on Iran that were removed when the deal was struck in 2015 — has further inflamed those tensions.