Speaking from Islam's holiest site in Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Abd al-Rahman al-Sudais marked the start of Islam's Eid al-Adha – the festival of the sacrifice – with a message for all Muslims.

"In Palestine, Muslims suffer oppression and al-Aqsa mosque [in Jerusalem] buckles under occupation... how can we live peacefully while our holy lands... are being tarnished by a band of infidel Zionists?"

Saudi's best known cleric told millions currently performing Hajj and tens of millions more via satellite broadcast that Israelis were escalating hostilities by building new settlements and separation barriers.

Iraqi issues

The cleric also lamented that Iraq "bleeds and that the occupier has ransacked the country and seized its riches."

"I pray that our brothers in the nation of the Rafidayn (Mesopotamia) be governed according to the Sunna (Islamic tradition)," added al-Sudais, calling on Muslims everywhere to unite "to defeat all their occupiers and oppressors."

He said Islam is "misrepresented by Western media which associate it with terror."
 
US-led occupation forces have promised to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government by 30 June.

Calming words

"Al-Aqsa mosque [in Jerusalem] buckles under occupation ... how can we live peacefully while our holy lands … are being tarnished by a band of infidel Zionists?"

Shaikh al-Sudais,
Imam of Makka Grand Mosque

In contrast to al-Sudais' fiery rhetoric, the message from Saudi Arabia's ruling family was a lot more subdued and brief.

King Fahd and Crown Prince Abd Allah issued a joint message delivered on their behalf by Minister of Information Fuad al-Farsi.

"The meanings of the Eid in Islam are many... they include uniting the Muslim nation for the good, away from hatred, extremism and terror which lead to mayhem and destruction that Islam has forbade and warned against."

An estimated two million pilgrims from all over the world have flocked to Makka and its surrounding areas to perform the rites of hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, amid very tight security measures.

Saudi authorities said they arrested in Riyadh on Thursday seven suspected members of a "terror group" planning an attack.

Police said they had seized large amounts of arms and explosives, shortly after six security men were shot dead in the capital during a search of a suspect's home.