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Bin Laden: Free Gaza with 'iron and fire'
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Osama bin Laden urged Palestinians on Thursday to use "iron and fire" to end an Israeli blockade of Gaza, in a recording after the Vatican rejected accusations by the al Qaeda chief of a "new crusade".

In an audiotape broadcast by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel on Thursday, bin Laden urged Muslims to keep up the struggle against US forces in Iraq as a path to "liberating Palestine". The tape was released around the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

"My speech is about the Gaza siege and the way to retrieve it and the rest of Palestine from the hands of the Zionist enemy," the Saudi-born militant said.

"Our enemies did not take it by negotiations and dialogue but with fire and iron. And this is the way to get it back."

On Wednesday, an Islamist Web site had issued another bin Laden recording which threatened the European Union with grave punishment for the publication of cartoons mocking Islam's Prophet Mohammad.

In that recording, which coincided with the birthday of Islam's founder, bin Laden said the drawings were part of a "crusade" against Muslims in which Pope Benedict was involved.

The Vatican has rejected those accusations.

"These accusations are totally unfounded," chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

Italian security officials said they were examining the new bin Laden message and its impact on the Pope, who is preparing for busy Easter weekend celebrations.

"Obviously we can't ignore it but at this moment that doesn't mean the threat is being taken seriously," said an Italian security source.

Bin Laden's message showed he regards Europe as fertile soil for al Qaeda, especially at a time of tension between free speech and Muslim values, but is unlikely to signal an imminent attack, security analysts and officials said.

There is no evidence bin Laden's statements contain coded instructions to al Qaeda operatives and he has no track record of delivering warnings immediately before an attack, they said.

(China Daily March 21, 2008)

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