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(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Hamas's political leader in exile said Tuesday that Iran will have a "major role" in Palestinian affairs. But Hamas leaders in the territories told The Jerusalem Post that they are "not rushing" to embrace that role.
"The ayatollah's regime will have a major role in Palestine," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said during a meeting in Teheran with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. "We trust Iran to help us deal with the challenges facing us today."
Mashaal is visiting Iran as part of a tour of Arab and Muslim countries aimed at gaining political and financial support for the soon-to-be Hamas-led government. The Palestinian Authority faces a serious financial crunch and possible collapse following the landslide Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian legislative elections. The US, EU and Canada have threatened to stop all assistance to the Palestinian Authority once Hamas takes control.
However, the Damascusbased Mashaal's relationship with Iran is not seen in a positive light by Hamas leaders living in the Palestinian territories.
"Iran is a sensitive issue," newly-elected Hamas PLC member Ghazi Hamad told the Post in a phone call from Gaza. "We are not rushing to take money from Iran." However on Sunday, Hamad told the Post that Hamas would "not reject any assistance from any country - Iran or any other."
Another Hamas PLC member from Gaza, Dr. Atef Adwan, said that accepting Iranian money would make "Hamas a tool of [Iranian] policy and this is not good for Hamas and not good for the region."
According to Hamas expert Shaul Mishaal of Tel Aviv University, accepting Iranian money is "very problematic from [Hamas's] point of view. Mishaal, who has written a book on Hamas, said that accepting money from the most radical Islamic channel could destabilize Hamas. "There will be those who oppose the radical influence and there will be those who will become more radicalized and will think the movement is too moderate," he said.
Mishaal said that the Iranians cannot foot the bill for the Palestinian Authority. "Hizbullah costs them $40m.-$50m. a month," he said. "Here it's $250m.-$300 million."
Mashaal, in his meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, said, "Negotiations with Israel are a waste of time until Israeli leaders decide to leave the Palestinian territories." However, when later asked if Hamas would recognize the Jewish state's legitimacy if Israel were to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, Mashaal told a gathering of Tehran University students at Shahid Chamran Hall that it would not.
"We will not recognize Israel at any cost," said Mashaal, Agence France Presse reported.
But the man considered a terrorist by Israel and the US did not rule out negotiating with the superpower.
"We are not satisfied with the measures taken by the US, given it being brutal and taking sides with Israel," Mashaal said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). "However, such dissatisfaction should not be taken as the intention to enter into war with the US."
Mashaal also said, "resistance" would not necessarily end once Hamas takes the reigns of government. "Now that we are in power, it does not mean that the resistance will be halted," Mashaal told the students, AFP quoted him as saying. "No, since without resistance we would have not been able to free our lands," he said, referring to the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip last year.
In what appeared to be a reference to the two poles of Israeli politics, Mashaal said, "If the Israelis vote for security [in March 28 general elections], then they should leave our land, but if they vote for continuation of the occupation, then they will face resistance." Mashaal arrived on Sunday night and met Monday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad urged Mashaal and other visiting officials to continue their jihad against the Jewish state. "Based on the international regulations, your future government could fight for liberation of your occupied land," the IRNA quoted him as saying.
Mashaal flew to Iran from Turkey, and will return to Damascus Wednesday before traveling to Moscow, Hamas PLC member Ghazi Hamad told the Post. Israel and the US, which have designated Hamas a terrorist group, say Iran provides financial and material support to Hamas, though Teheran insists it only gives moral backing. While Iran called on the Muslim world to increase support for the Palestinians, it did not say if it would do so as well.
Meanwhile, Arab League foreign ministers failed to agree at a meeting in Algiers Tuesday on an aid package for the Palestinians, amid a dispute over commitments from each member state.
Only Saudi Arabia, Qatar and one other member of the league have contributed aid for the Palestinians. The Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, and Algerian State Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem appealed to other member states to contribute funds.
AP contributed to this report.
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