Iranian president asks Arab leaders to stop Israel

Thursday, January 15, 2009

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's president urged Arab leaders Wednesday to cut all contacts with Israel and use their political and economic influence to pressure the Israelis to halt their offensive in Gaza.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Al-Manar television, owned by the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah, that the leaders should also pressure Israel's Western backers to stop the fighting, which Palestinian health officials say has killed more than 1,000 people in the Gaza Strip.

"Arabs can do many things on the political level -- they can cut off all open and secret contacts" with Israel, "they can use their political capabilities to pressure the backers of the Zionist entity by severing relations with them. And they can make use of their economic wealth," Ahmadinejad said.

Israel says it launched the offensive Dec. 27 to stop rocket fire against southern Israeli towns by Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Iran is Hamas' main backer, providing political and financial support. Iran denies sending Hamas weapons.

Ahmadinejad dismissed allegations that Iran is urging Hamas to reject Egyptian diplomatic efforts to end the fighting but demanded Egypt open the border crossings with the Gaza Strip.

He said Arab governments should exert pressure "on the protectors of the Zionist entity" rather than "putting pressure on Hamas."

Iranian ship intercepted

Earlier Wednesday, the Israeli navy had intercepted an Iranian ship loaded with 2,000 tons of medicine, food and clothing destined for Gaza and forced the vessel to Egypt, Iran's state-run television said.

The head of the humanitarian aid group sponsoring the ship, Ahmad Navabi, said the Israeli navy approached the cargo ship, Shahed, about 20 miles off the Gaza coast at dawn Wednesday and ordered it to turn back.

Israeli military officials said the ship was turned back as part of a naval blockade to prevent weapons smuggling and not because of its Iranian origin.

Iran has already sent a cargo plane filled with 50 tons of aid to Egypt to be sent on by land to Gaza.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran will still try to get the ship to Gaza, state television reported. It was the first Iranian ship to try to reach Gaza since the siege.

On Dec. 30, a vessel carrying international activists and medical supplies to Gaza was turned back after an altercation with the Israeli navy. Israeli officials said the boat tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it, lightly damaging both vessels.

Activists said the Israeli ship rammed their vessel ship, which returned to Lebanon.

That trip was organized by the Free Gaza group, which previously made five deliveries of aid by boat to Gaza since August, defying a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas won control of the territory in June 2007.

Israel's offensive in Gaza, which began Dec. 27, has sparked outrage in Iran and throughout the Muslim world.

In a gesture of support with the Gaza Palestinians, Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious opinion, or fatwa, declaring the purchase of any Israeli goods or trade with Israeli companies be forbidden.

Last week, Iranian authorities issued an order banning international companies from working in Iran if they have shares owned by Israelis. On Sunday, the Iranian government said it plans to impose sanctions on foreign companies in Iran who also deal with Israel.

It is unclear how or when the ban might be carried out, and no details were given regarding the sanctions.

In the fatwa posted on his website, Khamenei said Muslims throughout the world must avoid the purchase, import, and promotion of any products Israelis may profit from.

"All Muslims are required to avoid purchase and use of goods that bring profit to Zionists who are at war with Islam and Muslims," Khamenei said.

A fatwa is a religious opinion Muslims obey if they revere the person issuing it, which in the case of Khamenei would be restricted largely to Shiites in Iran and other parts of the world.

Iran doesn't recognize Israel and has no trade ties with the Jewish state.

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