Tehran: The West's publication of the cartoons was an Israeli conspiracy motivated by anger over Hamas's win in the Palestinian elections, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday.

Speaking to Iranian air force personnel, Khamenei the cartoons were a scandal, particularly as they came "from those who champion civilisation and free expression."

"The West condemns any denial of the Jewish holocaust, but it permits the insult of Islamic sanctities," Khamenei said.

The caricatures amounted to a "conspiracy by Zionists who were angry because of the victory of Hamas," he said, referring to the Palestinian movement that won a landslide victory in last month's elections.

Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters in Iran's Islamic system, was speaking at a ceremony to mark the air force's decision to join the Islamic revolution in 1979. His speech was broadcast on state radio.

Violence continues

Meanwhile, Iranian demonstrators throwing firebombs briefly stormed into the Danish embassy in Tehran yesterday in a new protest over the cartoons.

Between 20 and 30 protesters climbed over the walls into the compound while others in a crowd outside numbering up to 300 people outside hurled objects including Molotov cocktails at the building.

Demonstrators clashed with police who tried to keep the crowds away from the leafy embassy compound in upmarket northern Tehran.

On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators led by student members of the hardline Basij militia attacked the Danish and Austrian embassies in Tehran.

Yesterday's violence occurred despite the authorities calling on Iranians not to attack foreign missions.

"[The authorities] have told the Iranian people not to attack diplomatic territory," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on state television. "Nevertheless, Western countries should atone for their mistake."

Denmark's ambassador to Tehran, Claus Juul Nielsen, was quoted by the Danish news agency Ritzau as saying he had contacted the Iranian foreign ministry and police to seek protection.

But yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said diplomatic missions should be respected and a small, peaceful protest took place outside the Danish Embassy.

Papers criticise anti-Jewish cartoons

Israel's newspapers yesterday contrasted the Muslim world's furious response to the Danish cartoons with the restrained way it reacted to anti-Semitic caricatures in Arab media.

Hook-nosed Jews manipulating American foreign policy, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, drinking the blood of Palestinian children and Israelis wearing swastikas have all been depicted in newspapers across the Arab world in recent years.

Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, in an editorial said, "No society can remain apathetic to offensive publications that insult values held sacred by certain groups within it."

"The Arab media publish an endless stream of cartoons, television series and books whose anti-Jewish character falls little short of the infamous caricatures and publications of the Nazi Der Sturmer.

"These publications should be unequivocally condemned."

The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2006