Mass Friday Prayers resumed in Tehran after a 20-month Covid-19 interruption, as the main sermon emphasized unity among Muslims and warned of foreign plots.

The youngest Friday Prayers’ Imam in Tehran, Mohammad-Javad Haj Ali Akbari reiterated this week’s calls by Iranian officials at the International Islamic Unity Conference held in Tehran for Muslims to strive for friendship and close ranks against “foreign plots”.

The Islamic conference is a public relations event organized by the Islamic Republic to show that there is unity among Shiites and Sunnis and to carve a place for the clerical regime among other Muslims.

Iran has started talks with Saudi Arabia since April for reducing tensions and possibly reestablishing relations that were severed in 2016. Iran is keen to show the West that it is trying to improve ties with regional countries on its own and there is no need for them to demand negotiations over the issue.

The Friday Prayers Leader praised Iranian armed forces for their “brilliant” accomplishments and claimed that “Americans with their scandal in elections and defeat in West Asia, which was a strategic defeat, have no option but exit from Iraq.” He added that the US after spending 8 trillion dollars in West Asia was defeated and “even if it spends 800 trillion, it has no option but to leave” the region.

The prayers at Tehran University, a gathering of religious and political significance, came as authorities warned of a sixth wave of the coronavirus, which according to official figures has claimed 124,928 lives in Iran and afflicted more than 5.8 million. Critics of the government’s handling of the pandemic say the real death toll was at least twice the official figure.

The government says more than 28.2 million people have so far received a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

“Today is a very sweet day for us. We thank the Almighty for giving us back the Friday prayers after a period of restrictions and deprivation,” said Haj Ali Akbari said.

Worshippers had to heed social distancing and use face masks during the gathering, a forum where officials present a unified front in the weekly sermon, a duty that rotates around senior members of Iran’s conservative clerical establishment.

Most worshippers brought their own prayer rugs and clay tablets used during prostration, said the broadcast.

It said Friday prayers also were performed in several other Iranian cities.

Health Minister Bahram Einollah said earlier this week that it was a "certainty" that Iran would face a sixth wave next week. The warning came even as the country has accelerated its vaccination drive.

Einollahi added that his country was well-prepared for the new surge.

Schools with more than 300 students will re-open on Nov. 6, Alireza Kamarei, spokesman for Iran’s Education Ministry, said earlier this week, adding that it was not essential for students and teachers to be vaccinated. He said 85% of the country's teachers and 68% of students had so far been inoculated and that classrooms were well ventilated.

With reporting by Reuters

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