BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's vice president on Monday accused Israel of carrying out "massacres" in Lebanon, the strongest criticism yet of the Jewish state by a top official of the U.S-backed Iraqi government.
Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, singled out Sunday's Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. The deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting has triggered an international uproar.
"What happened in Qana is a repetition to these crimes that happened to our nation decades ago. It's time for this nation to stand up and stop this aggression and all forms of aggression that could affect any of its parts," Abdul-Mahdi said.
"These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, incites in us the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity," he said in a speech attended by Iraq's president, the prime minister and other top government officials.
The comments were harsher than the criticism leveled by Iraq's president and the deputy prime minister on Sunday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, another Shiite, had also condemned Israel's offensive before traveling to Washington last week, provoking criticism from U.S. lawmakers.
Several Democrats boycotted his speech to Congress on Wednesday and Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean called the Iraqi leader an "anti-Semite."
On Sunday, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, warning that "Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," al-Sistani said, in a clear reference to the United States.
The latest remarks by Abdul-Mahdi and Sistani are likely to heighten Iraqi public anger against the United States and create political problems for the Iraqi government, which depends on the Americans for its security and survival.
Abdul-Mahdi made the comments during a memorial at the headquarters of the influential Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, marking the third anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim.
Al-Hakim, a revered cleric, died in an al-Qaida-linked car bomb attack in Najaf in 2003, and has since been considered a symbol of martyrdom.
President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, also addressed the gathering, expressing "sympathy and support to our brothers in Lebanon against the Israeli aggression."
"We support them in getting rid of the effects of this aggression and imposing their sovereignty," Talabani said.
Anger over the Israeli offensive has united Shiites and Sunnis at a time of sectarian divisions here that has triggered a series of attacks and reprisal killings.
On Monday, about 200 people demonstrated in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, waving Lebanese and Iraqi flags.
"Allah, Allah, grant victory to Hassan Nasrullah," the demonstrators, including women and children, shouted, referring to Hezbollah leader.