Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal instructed the terror group's sleeper cells in the West Bank to prepare themselves for armed struggle to take control of the Palestinian territory, The Sunday Times reported.

According to the report, citing the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Aman military intelligence service, Hamas, at the behest of Iran, was preparing to seize power in the West Bank as it did in Gaza in a 2007 civil war.

The Sunday Times claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been warned by Israeli intelligence services of Hamas's possible usurpation of power, and quoted what it described as a close Netanyahu associate as saying: “Bibi [Netanyahu] understands the geopolitical changes in the Middle East. No way would [he] give up an inch of the West Bank - he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a Muslim Brotherhood [Hamas] takeover is solid.”

The Sunday Times also alleged that relations between Hamas and Iran were on the upswing after a brief cooling off period; relations were strained when Sunni Hamas abandoned its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shi’ite Iran's primary ally in the region.

According to the paper, however, as Assad’s position has weakened, Iran has hedged somewhat by re-pivoting towards Hamas in order to protect its interests were Assad to fall.

The Sunday Times said that Iran's motivation was to create a third proxy force in the West Bank - after Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza - through which to retaliate to any potential Israeli attack on Tehran's nuclear program.

The paper concluded by quoting senior Fatah member and former head of Palestinian general intelligence General Tawfik Tirawi as saying that "Hamas wants intifada [uprising]" and "will take over the West Bank.”

Last week, a poll by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 48 percent of the electorate in both the West Bank and Gaza would vote for Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh if Palestinian elections were to be held, as opposed to 45% for current PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

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