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Tape blasts Palestine talks

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Osama bin Laden lashed out Thursday at Palestinian peace negotiations with Israel and called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian lands.

A day after a bin Laden audio on a militant Web site threatened Europeans, Al-Jazeera TV broadcast audio excerpts attributed to the al-Qaida leader that urge Palestinians to ignore political parties "mired in trickery of the blasphemous democracy" and to rely on armed might.

"Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron," he said.

It was the first time bin Laden spoke of the Palestinian question at length since the deteriorating situation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military has been fighting with militants who fire rockets into southern Israel.

Bin Laden added that Palestinians who are unable to fight in the "land of Al-Quds" — a Muslim reference to Jerusalem — should join the al-Qaida fight in Iraq.

"The nearest field of jihad today to support our people in Palestine is the Iraqi field," he said.

He also called on the people of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to "help in support of their mujahedeen brothers in Iraq, which is the greatest opportunity and the biggest task."

Al-Jazeera did not say how it obtained the recording, which was broadcast with an old photograph of bin Laden in a white headscarf and traditional Arab dress.

There was no indication how recently the recording was made, or if it was an unreleased part of the audio posted late Wednesday on an extremist Web site that has carried al-Qaida statements in the past. The two messages were bin Laden's first this year.

In the first recording, bin Laden accused Pope Benedict XVI of helping in a "new Crusade" against Muslims and warned of a "severe" reaction for Europeans' publication of cartoons seen by Muslims as insulting Islam's prophet.

In the audio on Al-Jazeera, bin Laden said the sufferings of Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip began when Arab leaders supported the U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., and the "Zionist entity," the militant name for Israel

The mention of the Annapolis summit in November was the only time reference given in the audio.

"By their support, they are considered partners to this horrible crime," bin Laden said of Arab leaders who are backing the Mideast peace talks.

He appeared to be seeking to merge the Palestinian cause into the wider al-Qaida struggle. There have been concerns al-Qaida would try to increase its influence in Palestinian territories, with supporters of the terror network calling for such action on Web sites.

Israel has been battling Hamas in Gaza since the Islamic militant group took control of the strip last June from followers of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli air raids are common in Gaza and militants fire rockets into Israeli towns near the strip.

"Palestine will not return to us with the negotiations by the submissive rulers, their conferences, nor by demonstrations and elections," bin Laden said. "Palestine will come back to us if we awaken from our ignorance and adhere to our religion and sacrifice our lives and means to it."

Although al-Qaida has previously released two messages in as many days — most recently by bin Laden's top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri in December — the latest two appeared to be the closest by bin Laden, said Ben Venzke, head of IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors militant messages.

"Al-Qaida has been making a concerted effort to be responsive to developments in news cycle and to respond to current events with their perspective on it," Venzke said. "The situation in Gaza and the reprinting of cartoons was something bin Laden felt was important to address."

A militant Web site that frequently carries al-Qaida postings, said later Thursday that it expected bin Laden's new audio on "The Way to Salvage Palestine" soon.

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told The Associated Press that Israel does not comment on bin Laden's statements.

Saeb Erekat, a negotiator for Abbas' Palestinian administration, said it was up to all parties in the talks to show that bin Laden's path isn't the way.

"We and the international community must prove him wrong, because we have been pursuing peace through negotiations, and I believe the parties involved must make every effort to make the year 2008 a year of peace," Erekat said.

The audio released Wednesday raised concerns al-Qaida was plotting attacks in Europe. Some experts said bin Laden, believed to be hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan area, might be unable to organize attacks himself and was trying to fan anger over the cartoons to inspire violence by supporters.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the contents of bin Laden's message "are filled with hate and encouraging people to murder innocents in the name of a perverted and depraved cause."

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday that bin Laden's accusation about the pope was baseless. He said Benedict repeatedly criticized the Muhammad cartoons, first published in some European newspapers in 2006 and republished by Danish papers in February.