CAIRO - Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to conduct a jihad against Israel, seeking to harness anger over the Gaza offensive with a message posted on the Internet yesterday.
The al-Qaeda chief vowed to open "new fronts" against the United States and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and criticized Arab leaders, accusing most of them of being allies of the United States and Israel.
The White House dismissed the call to jihad, or holy war, saying it reflects bin Laden's isolation and shows he is trying to remain relevant at a time when his ideology and mission are being challenged.
Bin Laden spoke in a 22-minute audiotape posted on Islamic militant Web sites where al-Qaeda usually issues its messages.
The 51-year-old al-Qaeda leader has been in hiding since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, believed to be living somewhere along the lawless Pakistan-Afghan border.
It was bin Laden's first tape since May.
He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a "heavy inheritance" from President Bush - two wars and "the collapse of the economy."
He predicted that burden will render the United States unable to sustain a long fight against al-Qaeda's warriors.
There is "only one, strong way to bring the return of Al-Aqsa and Palestine, and that is jihad in the path of God," Bin Laden said, referring to the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. "The duty is to urge people to jihad and to enlist the youth into jihad brigades."
He also appealed for donations to finance the fight, saying the "tithes from any of the great Muslim or Arab traders" would be enough "for jihad on all the fronts."
The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had no reason to question its authenticity but was not certain U.S. officials had verified the voice.
"It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant at a time when al-Qaeda's ideology, mission, and agenda are being questioned and challenged throughout the world," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.
"This also looks to be an effort to raise money as part of their ongoing propaganda campaign," Mr. Johndroe said.
The tape, titled "A call for jihad to stop the aggression on Gaza," was played over a picture of bin Laden and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites. There were no English subtitles or the flashy production graphics that usually accompany such messages.
That suggested the message had been hastily put together to exploit Muslim anger over the Gaza offensive.
Israel has said the offensive aims to halt rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli towns, but Palestinian medical officials say half of those killed have been civilians.
"The bin Laden speech is an obvious and cheap attempt to capitalize on the Arab world's boiling anger about the Israeli invasion of Gaza," said terror expert Eric Rosenbach of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School.
He said links between al-Qaeda and Gaza's Hamas rulers are "tenuous at best" and that Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, historically has distanced itself from bin Laden's terror movement.