Osama bin Laden tape calls for jihad against Israel

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The Independent Online

The al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden called for jihad (holy struggle) over the Israeli offensive in Gaza in a new audio tape that appeared on Islamist websites today.

The Saudi-born militant said the global financial crisis had exposed the waning US influence in world affairs and would in turn weaken its ally Israel.

"Our brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot.... the Muslims sympathise with you in what they see and hear. We, the mujahideen, sympathise with you also..." bin Laden said in the tape entitled 'A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression against Gaza'.

"We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom."

The Palestinian death toll from a 19-day-old Israeli offensive to crush the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza has risen to 971, causing widespread anger among ordinary Arabs and Muslims. Israel says 13 Israelis have been killed by rockets or mortars from Gaza.

In the 22-minute tape, bin Laden said that the United States was losing its dominant position in the world and that this was due to al-Qa'ida's campaign.

"The jihad of your sons against the Crusader-Zionist coalition is one of the key reasons for these destructive effects among our enemies," bin Laden said in the tape that was dated in the current Islamic month.

"God has bestowed us with the patience to continue the path of jihad for another seven years, and seven and seven... The question is, can America continue its war with us for several more decades to come? Reports and evidence would suggest otherwise."

The authenticity of the tape, produced by al-Qa'ida's media arm As-Sahab, could not immediately be verified but the voice sounded like that of bin Laden.

Bin Laden last appeared in an audio tape in May and also focused on Gaza, calling on Muslims to try to help end the blockade of the area.

The al-Qa'ida leader has placed growing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years and Wednesday's audio tape was accompanied by a still of bin Laden and a picture of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest shrine.

Behind the September 11, 2001 attack on US cities, al-Qa'ida has regularly called for attacks on the Jewish state.

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 2002.