Iran shuts paper for Hamas criticism

Statement in daily called Hamas terror organization that hides in schools, draws civilian casualties.

Iranians burn Israeli flags 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iranians burn Israeli flags 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Iranian government on Wednesday ordered shut a leading reformist daily, Kargozaran, for publishing a statement by a student group that blamed Hamas for provoking the current IAF strikes on Gaza. The paper's editor Mehran Karami said the student statement condemned the Israeli attacks but also called Hamas a terrorist organization that hides in schools and thus draws civilian casualties. Meanwhile, hard-line Iranian student groups have asked the government to authorize volunteers to go carry out suicide bombings in Israel in response to the military operation in the Gaza Strip. The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not responded to the call by Wednesday. Five hard-line student groups and a conservative clerical group launched a registration drive on Monday, seeking volunteers to carry out suicide attacks against Israel. In an open letter to Ahmadinjead, the students said: "volunteer student suicide groups ... are determined to go to Gaza. You are expected to issue orders to the relevant authorities in order to pave the way for such action." A copy of the letter was made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Volunteer suicide groups have made similar requests in the past and the government never responded to their calls. Some hard-liners have claimed previously they succeeded in secretly sending bombers to Israel, but their claims have never been verified, and there has not been any sign of Iranians carrying out suicide attacks in Israel - raising the likelihood the groups' activities are mainly for propaganda purposes. The hard-liners started signing up volunteers after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious decree Sunday saying anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza would be considered a martyr. The groups claim that more than 10,000 people throughout Iran have registered as volunteer suicide bombers in the past three days. At a gathering Tuesday in Teheran, hard-liners were distributing registration forms to volunteers. "How can I remain indifferent while defenseless Palestinians are being butchered," said one volunteer, Ali Reza Takrim Namini, as he filled out the registration form. Another, Mostafa Babaei, vowed, "I'm willing to sacrifice my blood in support of Islam and in defense of Palestinian Muslims." The volunteers wore white shrouds symbolizing their willingness to die and headbands with the slogan "Defenders of Gaza" and "Ready for Martyrdom." Most of those registering were members of the Basij militia, a hard-line paramilitary group that has tens of thousands of members and is often involved in drumming up popular fervor against Israel and the West. Protesters have held daily rallies outside the Egyptian interests section in Teheran, as well as the Jordanian and Saudi embassies, protesting what they call inaction by Arab nations. On Thursday, hard-line students threatened to storm the Egyptian mission unless Egypt open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, a step Cairo has refused. Late Tuesday, a branch of the Italian clothing retailer Benetton in northern Teheran was set on fire, apparently as part of a protest. The state-owned newspaper Iran reported the attack, repeating a claim often made by hard-liners that the chain is "affiliated to the Zionist network." The branch showed minor damage, with some burned clothes and scorch marks.