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Middle East

Iran's annual Jerusalem Day rallies take on Saudi policy in Yemen

media Iranian demonstrators burn an Israeli flag on al-Quds Day in Tehran Reuters

International al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) saw several thousand Iranians taking part in annual anti-Israel rallies throughout the country. This year, though, demonstrators have also voiced their anger towards Saudi Arabia, accusing Riyadh of oppressing the Shia minority in Yemen.

Al-Quds Day, which takes its name from the Arabic word for Jerusalem, is an annual event held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

It was originally proclaimed in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as a religious duty for all Muslims - and non-Muslims -  to rally in solidarity of oppressed people.

Massoud Shadjareh, the Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, said even though al-Quds Day has a broader meaning today, Palestine is in still at the heart of most of the demonstrations..

"It has gone beyond just Muslims even though it's a Muslim platform," he told RFI. "And the issue of Palestine is an example, it is highlighted and predominant on this day but it is more and more about people understanding this is a systematic oppression, illegal occupation, a very brutal one."

He says that people from the Jewish, Christians and secular communities get together, as it is the case at the rally in London for example.

In Tehran the usual slogans " Death to Israel" or "Down with America" were chanted in the streets.

However, Milad Jokar, an Iranian political analyst, said that this was coming from only a handful of people.

"Since President Hassan Rouhani was elected, the tone has changed in a much more diplomatic way to show the support for Palestine, without speaking directly about Israel, which was a very sensitive issue," he said on Friday.

The sometimes violent slogans did not reflect what the population voted for, he argued.

"They voted for a moderate president, one willing to engage the United States and the government has been engaging the US for more than 20 months now, working on the nuclear talks and the radical elements protesting with these chants are of course only a minority."

This year, though, people were also protesting against Saudi Arabia and its attacks on Shia-Muslim rebels in Yemen.

"In the context of a broader regional religious animosity, every occasion is good for Tehran to remind that they are supportive of the Shia minorities everywhere and that Saudi Arabia is the aggressor in this kind of civil war that is now taking place in Yemen," Jean Yves Camus, a political analyst for the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris, commented

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