Bin Laden marks Israel anniversary with combat vow
By Lin Noueihed
DUBAI (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden vowed in an audio tape to mark Israel's 60th anniversary to continue to fight the Jewish state and its allies in the West.
The al Qaeda leader, who has placed growing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said it was at the heart of the Muslim battle with the West and an inspiration to the 19 bombers who carried out the attacks on U.S. cities on September 11, 2001.
"We will continue, God permitting, the fight against the Israelis and their allies ... and will not give up a single inch of Palestine as long as there is one true Muslim on Earth," he said in the message, posted on an Islamist website on Friday.
Bin Laden said Israel's anniversary celebrations were a reminder that it did not exist 60 years ago, and had been established on land seized from Palestinians by force.
"This is evidence that Palestine is our land, and the Israelis are invaders and occupiers who should be fought," he said in the tape, which was addressed to the Western public.
The Saudi-born militant also said that decades of peace initiatives had failed to establish a Palestinian state, and the West had proved time and again that it sided with Israel.
"The participation of Western leaders with the Jews in this celebration confirms that the West backs this Jewish occupation of our land, and that they stand in the Israeli corner against us," he said. "They proved this in practice by sending their forces to southern Lebanon."
He also said Western media had over the years painted Israelis as victims, and the Palestinians who had been displaced from their land as terrorists.
The authenticity of the tape could not immediately be verified but the voice sounded like bin Laden's.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel dismissed the tape as the ravings of a terrorist.
"We don't pay any attention to the threats of a crazy terrorist. The time has come for him to be caught and to be punished for all his crimes," Mekel said.
A U.S. official in Washington said the tape was being reviewed to establish if it was genuinely from bin Laden but the content came as no surprise.
"There's been a recent spate of terrorist messages in which Israel has been a central theme -- one that al Qaeda believes resonates in the Muslim world," the official said.
In a message on March 20, bin Laden urged Muslims to maintain the struggle against U.S. forces in Iraq as a path toward "liberating Palestine."
Al Qaeda has vowed attacks on Jews both inside and outside Israel and regularly expresses support for the Palestinians.
Al Qaeda is widely blamed for a suicide attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and a simultaneous failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli charter jet near Mombasa airport in Kenya in 2002.
But despite calls by al Qaeda supporters for the militant network to establish a presence in Palestinian areas, U.S. intelligence officials see no evidence it has done so.
Analysts say it faces competition for turf, in particular in the Gaza Strip, from the well-established Hamas.
Bin Laden said the Palestinians in Gaza were being subjected to a "slow death" and blamed U.S.-allied Egypt for helping Israel to besiege the overcrowded Hamas-run area.