DUBAI - Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri has called on all Muslims to back the rebels in Syria, saying the overthrow of President Bashar Assad would bring them closer to the ultimate goal of defeating Israel, according to an audio recording posted on the Internet on Thursday.

Speaking on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Zawahri criticized Muslim governments in the Middle East and in Asia for failing to pursue the cause of political Islam. He chastised the new leadership in Egypt in particular for sticking to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Pakistan, which he described as a "government for sale and an army for rent".

The 2011 Arab Spring revolutions have redrawn the political landscape in the Middle East, bringing in Islamist governments in Tunisia and Egypt and increasing the influence of Islamist political groups throughout the region, which Western governments have watched with concern.

Zawahri said the United States was propping up Assad because it feared the rise of another Islamist regime to threaten its ally Israel.

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