PM Haniyeh and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
GAZA - The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, left on
Monday for a tour of Iran and Gulf states, continuing a diplomatic drive
to realign the Palestinian Islamist movement after a year of political
change in the Arab world.
Non-Arab Iran, along with its Arab ally
Syria, have been principal backers of Hamas. Iran has supplied funds
and - according to Israel - weapons to use against the Jewish state.
spokesman Taher al-Nono said Haniyeh, who travels via Egypt since
Israel bars other exits from Gaza, was going to Tehran at the invitation
of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he gave no details of the agenda
for talks in Tehran.
The upheavals across the Middle East are
obliging the Palestinians and their rival political movements, Hamas and
Fatah, to review alliances - though how Hamas may adjust its
strategies, or its stance towards Israel, is far from clear.
Hamas's challenges is financing. A diplomatic source told Reuters that
Iran had funded Hamas in the past with up to $300 million per year, but
the flow of money had not been regular in 2011. "Payment has been in
suspension since August," said the source, who spoke on condition of
Iran is under tough international economic sanctions
over suspicions, which it denies, that it is secretly developing nuclear
weapons in violation of international agreements.
diplomatic sources say Iran is unhappy with Hamas for its refusal to
offer public support to its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has
hosted the Hamas leadership in exile in his capital Damascus for the
Diplomatic and intelligence sources say Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal no longer spends much time in Syria, where over 5,000
people have been killed in 10 months of conflict.
In a Middle
East increasingly divided on sectarian lines between Sunni and Shi'ite
Muslim powers, Mashaal appears politically embarrassed by finding his
group, which like most Palestinians is Sunni, hosted by a Syrian
government dominated by Assad and his Alawite minority, whose sect has
its roots in the Shi'ite Islam practiced in non-Arab Iran.
Tehran's other Arab allies include Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government.Hamas caught between Shi'ite, Muslim Brotherhood allegiances
the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist
movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s, Hamas has found itself allied to
the very forces - Assad and his Iranian backers - which are cracking
down on the Brotherhood in Syria.
However, Hamas said in a statement in recent days that Mashaal's absence from Damascus
was due only to concerns about security in that country at the moment
and denied that it had moved its leadership or headquarters out of Syria
Arab League states, joining calls from Western powers, have now urged Assad to step aside
deepening Syria's isolation from the rest of the Arab world, where
Sunni rulers like those of wealthy Saudi Arabia and populous Egypt are
Analysts suggest these developments have persuaded
Mashaal that Hamas needs to reassess its alliances, and adopt a more
conciliatory stance towards the West, which like Israel labels his
movement a terrorist group and refuses to negotiate with it.
on Sunday visited Western-backed King Abdullah of Jordan, ending a
decade-long rift after the monarchy expelled Hamas. Jordan, which has a
peace treaty with Israel, was among the first of Arab states to call on
Assad to step down.
Hamas denies any internal dissent over the
movement's future course in light of the changes brought about by the
Arab Spring uprisings against entrenched rulers. But analysts say
divergences in its collective leadership are clear to see.
Palestinian commentator Ibrahim Hamamy wrote of Haniyeh: "I urge you to
reconsider your decision and your program to visit Iran, which took a
clearly hostile position against the aspirations of the courageous
Haniyeh was also due to visit the Gulf emirate of Qatar, one of Assad's most vocal opponents in the Arab world.
earlier visited Egypt and Tunisia to meet fellow Islamist leaders
brought to power by last year's uprisings. He also visited Turkey which,
unlike its fellow NATO members, recognizes Hamas as a legal political
Some diplomatic sources have said that Turkey promised to
provide Haniyeh's Gaza Strip administration with $300 million to support
its annual budget. Turkey has denied this allegation