Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday voiced his country’s full support for Hamas in its fight against Israel and said Tehran considers the Palestinian issue an “Islamic cause.”

Khamenei’s remarks came during a meeting with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is currently on an official visit to Iran.

The meeting between Khamenei and Haniyeh was the first of its kind since the latter assumed office after his movement won the January 2006 parliamentary election.

“Iran will always be supportive of the Palestinian cause and the Islamic resistance in Palestine,” the Tehran-based Mehr News Agency quoted Khamenei as saying.

Khamenei added that the “recent victories in Palestine were partially responsible for the Islamic awakening in the region” – a reference to the rise to power of Islamists in a number of Arab countries, including Tunisia and Egypt.

“Undoubtedly, the accumulating sentiments of the region’s peoples toward the cause of the Gaza Strip led to the sudden eruption of the volcano in the region,” the Iranian leader told Haniyeh.

Khamenei also warned against attempts by unnamed parties to “undermine” Hamas, but did not elaborate.

“We have no doubt about your resistance and that of many of your brothers, and the people only have this expectation of you,” he said.

Haniyeh, for his part, thanked the Iranian leadership for its “ongoing” support of Hamas and the Palestinian cause. Invited to Iran to participate in celebrations marking the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, he underlined the three strategies of his government: “liberating Palestine from the sea to the river, abiding by the resistance and affirming the Islamic character of the Palestinian cause.”

The visit came amid deepening divisions within Hamas over last week’s Qatari-sponsored reconciliation agreement between the movement and Fatah. The deal calls for naming Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister of a new Palestinian unity government.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has come under sharp criticism for signing the pact.

Over the weekend, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, came out publicly against Mashaal, saying the agreement had been a “mistake.”

While Zahar and most of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip expressed opposition to the deal under the pretext that it included far-reaching concessions to Abbas and Fatah, representatives of the movement in the West Bank praised it.

A Hamas official in Ramallah said Zahar’s criticism “reflected only his personal opinion.”

The official, who asked not to be identified, also lashed out at Haniyeh for visiting Iran “at this very sensitive period.”He and other Hamas officials have noted that the visit came at a time when other Hamas leaders were trying to distance themselves from Iran and Syria.

The official expressed concern that the Iranians, in return for providing financial and military aid, would ask the Islamist group to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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