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Israeli President Shimon Peres called on Iranians to replace their "corrupt regime" in his traditional greeting to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has called on Iranians to replace their "corrupt regime," in his traditional address to mark the Persian New Year.
In a speech broadcast in Farsi and Hebrew via Israeli Radio, Peres accused the Iranian government of investing in nuclear power at the expense of its citizens, and of repressing the voice of its people.
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According to a translation by Jewish news site Ynet, Peres said:
"I call on the Iranian people: it is not too late to replace the corrupt regime and return to your glorious Persian heritage, a heritage of culture and values and not of bombs and missiles. [...] How can a nation allow a regime to instill fear, take away the people's freedom and shock the young generation that seeks its way out of the dictatorial Iran.
"Iran, which was once widely beloved, is turning the whole world against it."
Peres also addressed Iran's leaders directly, urging Tehran not to make its "children flee home," which the Associated Press took to be a reference to the possibility of war between Israel and Iran.
Nowruz has become an occasion for world leaders to address themselves to Iranians, with both Peres and US President Barack Obama using the celebrations to call for peace in recent years. In his 2011 address, Obama criticized Iran's human rights record and pledged his solidarity with the young people of Iran, who he said would "shape the future of Iran, and help light the world."
This year, the holiday falls amid even higher tension between Iran and Western countries, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that "none of us can afford to wait much longer" for Iran to allay fears that it may be working toward nuclear weapons.
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Peres seems to be taking a deliberately softer stance: last week he joined Facebook and invited users from "specifically Iran, Lybia [sic], Syria, and Egypt to join me and promote peace between the people." Meanwhile his official YouTube account features a video called "Be My Friend for Peace," in which the Israeli president calls on viewers to "speak up and change the world" over an electro-house soundtrack.
And Peres is not the only one adopting a friendly tone. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli activists have started a Facebook campaign entitled "Israel loves Iran," which posts online messages of goodwill such as "Iranians, we will never bomb your country, we [heart] you."
According to Haaretz, the page is attracting growing support from Iranian Facebook users, one of whom reportedly wrote back: "We also love you. Your words are reaching us despite the censorship. The Iranian people, apart from the regime, do not hold a grudge nor animosity against anyone, especially not the Israelis."
Watch Shimon Peres' "Be My Friend for Peace" dance remix: