Iranians Rally in Support of Gaza as Quds Day Marked in Tehran

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied nationwide today to protest Israel’s military strikes on Gaza, which have targeted Hamas militants who are backed by Iran.

Demonstrators pledged solidarity with Palestinians and chanted slogans of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” In downtown Tehran, thousands of Iranian families, mainly drawn from the ruling clerics’ conservative support base, laid blankets on tree-lined streets and listened to speeches broadcast by loudspeakers.

Iran each year marks Quds Day, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem, to show its support for the Palestinians. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

“I hadn’t come to this rally in five years, but this time, because of what’s happening in Gaza, I really had to, I couldn’t miss it,” said 50-year-old retired accountant Sima Abbasi. “It’s all the attacks on the children, it’s terrifying and you just want to cry.”

Fighting between Israel’s military and Hamas intensified last week when the Israeli military added to its air bombardment by sending troops into Gaza, saying it was acting to stop militants firing barrages of rockets into Israel and to destroy cross-border tunnels.

Diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are pursuing a truce to end a conflict that has now killed more than 800 Palestinians and 34 Israeli soldiers.

“I am against a cease-fire,” said Abbasi’s cousin, Susan. “The Gazans have nothing left, they’re telling the world ‘if you don’t give us food and medicine and help us, then there’s nothing left for us but to die.’ There’s nowhere for them to go, so what’s the point of a cease-fire,” she said.

This year’s protest came after 12 months of steadily improving ties between the U.S. and Iran. Iranian officials are negotiating a nuclear deal with a group of world powers, including representatives of the Obama administration, that aims to end economic sanctions in return for curbs on the nation’s atomic activity.

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