TEHRAN (AFP) — More than 200 conservative Iranian lawmakers lashed out on Wednesday at a top aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his controversial remarks that Iranians are "friends with Israelis."
The MPs issued a strongly-worded statement calling on Ahmadinejad to take action against his deputy, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.
"Mr Mashaei does not have the right to take such a disgraceful stance and he is not competent to hold such a responsibility," according to the statement read out in parliament by one of the MPs.
"Condemning this regretful position, we deputies ask Dr Ahmadinejad to deal with him seriously," he told the 290-seat assembly.
Rahim Mashaie, vice president in charge of tourism, is one of Ahmadinejad's closest allies and earlier this year his daughter married the president's son.
"I have said before that we do not have any hostility against the Israeli people and I still say the same thing proudly," he said in remarks published in several local newspapers on Monday.
"Not all the Israeli people are wearing (military) boots on the street."
Ahmadinejad himself has earned international notoriety for his frequent verbal assaults against the Jewish state, which he has described as a "stinking corpse" and has predicted is doomed to disappear.
Tehran vows never to recognise Israel, an ally of the pro-US shah who was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution, and Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said Iran is ready to talk to all nations except the "Zionist regime."
"Mr Mashaie probably does not know that those he calls people (Israelis) are the same occupiers of houses of millions of Palestinians," the MPs said in the statement.
"These people have created the illegitimate Zionist regime... we do not recognise a land called Israel let alone recognise its people."
Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state, considers Iran its main strategic threat because of its nuclear programme, which Israel and its staunch US ally suspect is aimed at developing weapons.
Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations, insisting its nuclear drive is aimed solely at providing electricity for its growing population when its fossils fuels run out.
The United States has never ruled out military action against Iran over its defiance of international demands for it to freeze uranium enrichment, but so far is pursuing the diplomatic route.
"The position of the United States is well known. They do not want, for the time being, any (military) action against Iran," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told army radio.
"Our position is that no option is to be taken off the table but in the meantime we have to make diplomatic progress," he said.
There was speculation that the Iran-Israel animosity had spilled over to the Beijing Olympics, where an Iranian swimmer failed to appear for the men's 100m breaststroke heats on Saturday, apparently because an Israeli was also racing.
However, Mohammad Alirezaei said the reason for his absence was because of sickness.
During the 2004 Athens Olympics, Iran's judo world champion Arash Miresmaeili, a prominent gold medal hope, refused to compete against Ehud Vaks of Israel in the first round out of solidarity for the Palestinian cause.
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