TEHRAN: Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday openly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and lashed out at Muslim nations who recognise the Jewish state.
"The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," the president told a conference in Tehran entitled 'The World without Zionism'.
"The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land," he thundered in a fiery speech on what he called an "historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam".
"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, referring to Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
His comments were the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official has called for Israel's eradication, even though such slogans are still regularly used at regime rallies. Addressing some 4,000 students gathered in an interior ministry conference hall, Ahmadinejad also called for Palestinian unity, resistance and "the annihilation of the Zionist regime".
His mere appearance at the conference drew chants of "Death to Israel", but Ahmadinejad quickly told students - all of whom wore black and were sporting green headbands - to shout the slogan louder.
"The Islamic umma (community) will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland," said the president, an austere veteran of Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards who took office in August after scoring a landslide win in a June presidential election. "We should not settle for a piece of land," he said of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip.
His tone represents a dramatic change from that of former president Mohammad Khatami, whose favoured topic was "dialogue among civilisations" and who led an effort to improve Iran's relations with the West. Ahmadinejad instead spoke of an "historic war" between Islam and the West.