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Iranian militia volunteers stage capture of replica al-Aqsa Mosque

Two-day military exercises involving battalions of Basij volunteer fighters also involved fighter drops bombing targets in the desert
Members of the Basij forces march uphill towards a replica of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque (Fars News Agency)

Iranian volunteer militia forces have staged two days of military drills near the shrine city of Qom, culminating with a march to a replica of Jerusalem’s holy al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday.

Iran’s Basij forces, who are estimated to number in the tens of thousands and whose full name translates as The Organisation for Mobilisation of the Oppressed, staged the drills under the title “Towards the Holy City”.

Members of the Basij pose with their weapons following one of the drills (Fars News Agency)

As part of the drills, which according to Iran’s Fars news agency involved 120 Basij batallions, fighters marched towards a plastic replica of al-Aqsa, the Jerusalem mosque that is considered the second most holy site in Islam.

During the drills fighter jets bombed targets in the desert, watched by squadrons of gun-wielding volunteers dressed in fatigues and wearing headbands that read “At Your Service Ruhollah” - a reference to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the cleric who led Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and served as supreme leader until his death a decade later.

Dust rises from airstrikes around the replica of al-Aqsa Mosque (Fars News Agency)

A Basij commander told Fars the drills had been organised “to exercise preparedness to fight against possible threats in the region”.

Though the Basij are generally trained to fight in Iran, members of the force have also reportedly been deployed to fight in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month a senior Basij commander was reported killed in clashes with rebels in the flashpoint south-western governorate of Quneitra.