Hamas Leader Thanks Iran for Support During Regional Tour

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TEHRAN, Feb. 2 -- Hamas leader Khaled Meshal thanked Iran on Monday for many kinds of assistance but omitted any mention of the military aid that Israel and the United States have accused Iran of providing the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

Meshal, a top political leader who lives in exile in Syria, met with Iran's top leaders during a regional tour intended to strengthen backing for Hamas as it attempts to rebuild Gaza, which Israeli forces bombarded during a 22-day assault that ended Jan. 17.

Meshal watched hundreds of Iranian Hamas supporters gathered at Tehran University as they shook their fists and shouted slogans against Israel and the United States. They also called for the execution of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom they labeled a traitor for not supporting Hamas and for blocking the border between his country and the Gaza Strip during the Israeli offensive.

"Thank you for all your support -- the financial, political and media and popular support which you gave to us," Meshal said. Hamas representatives in Tehran and Iranian officials have long denied accusations that Iran provides the movement with other kinds of assistance.

"The allegation that Iran provides weapons for Hamas is completely baseless," Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the foreign policy and national security committee of the Iranian parliament, said in a recent interview.

"The weapons used by Hamas are simple, self-produced weapons, as mentioned in many international news reports. This resistance is not about weapons. Hamas is a resistance group which came forth from the oppression of the Palestinian people," Jalali said.

Iran, whose government is overseen by Shiite clerics, has acknowledged providing military assistance to the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah in the past. But Iranian leaders reject charges that they have provided weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq or to Hamas, a Sunni movement that receives assistance from predominantly Sunni countries with which Iran is often at odds.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Meshal at a meeting Sunday to prepare for a new Israeli offensive in Gaza. Israel's "propaganda" is ongoing and Hamas's "Islamic resistance needs to be ready for every eventuality, even for another war in Gaza," Khamenei said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. Meshal also met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visited parliament.

Some Iranian observers do not rule out military assistance to Hamas. "I have no evidence, but it would be self-defeating for Iran not to provide Hamas with weapons," said Ahmad Zeidabadi, a columnist and critic of Ahmadinejad's administration. "They share the same ideology, both strongly oppose peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. Iran's international relations have been damaged over the support for Hamas, so at least there should be something in return on the military field."

On Jan. 16, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed an agreement aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons to Gaza. In the accord, Iran was described as "the most important supplier" of such weapons to Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization.

"Iran is not giving us any weapons," said Abu Osama Abdolmoti, the permanent Hamas representative in Iran, during a recent interview in his uptown Tehran office. "But I look forward to the day when weapons from Iran, Syria, Egypt and all Muslim friendly countries can be openly given to Gaza -- just like Israel is openly getting weapons from the United States and Europe."

Abdolmoti, who has been in Tehran for seven years, declined to say how much financial aid Iran provides Hamas. "Many countries support us. Iran's laudable aid helps the democratically elected government to carry out its duties for its people. This while Western governments are plotting to overthrow this government," he said. Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and took exclusive control of Gaza in 2007 after routing forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement, which favors a negotiated peace settlement with Israel.

"We are absolutely not an Iranian pawn," Abdolmoti said, speaking in Arabic rather than Iran's main language, Farsi. "If Iran makes some kind of deal with the United States which is negative for Palestine, we will continue our struggle like before. We don't take orders from anybody."

At Tehran University, Meshal stressed the unity between Iran and Hamas. "We are in the same trench, facing Israeli and U.S. tyranny," he said. "We are with you, Sunnis and Shiites, to serve the interests of the Arab and Islamic communities."


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