(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian prime minister vowed his Hamas-led government will never recognize Israel and will fight for Jerusalem, telling a crowd at an Iranian mosque that he will resist US pressure to moderate.
Ismail Haniyeh's sermon Friday came on the first day of his visit to an increasingly influential ally of the Hamas movement. Iran has given US$120 million to the Hamas-led government, which is starved for funds because of a financial blockade by the West.
Hamas officials in Gaza said they expected Iran to pledge more money to Haniyeh, around US$30 million a month. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.
Haniyeh's visit came at a crucial time in efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which hinges on whether Hamas and its moderate Fatah rival can form a national unity government. The Fatah party hopes Hamas will be sidelined enough in a new government to allow a resumption of negotiations.
The United States and other Western countries are pressing Hamas, which took over the Palestinian government after winning January elections, to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Haniyeh said he would do no such thing, adopting his hosts' label of "the world arrogance" to refer to the US during his sermon to thousands of Friday prayer worshippers at Tehran University.
"The world arrogance and Zionists ... want us to recognize the usurpation of the Palestinian lands and stop jihad and resistance and accept the agreements reached with the Zionist enemies in the past," Haniyeh said, speaking in Arabic with a simultaneous translation into Farsi.
"We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem," he said.
An official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, David Baker, said Haniyeh's comments were "precisely this type of extremist rhetoric that fuels terror and has prevented any chance of progress between Israel and the Palestinians."
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, said that if Hamas wants to be part of a unity government, it will need to abide by agreements the PLO has signed. This would imply recognition of Israel.
"I can't criticize him (Haniyeh) when he is talking in the name of Hamas. But if he is speaking as prime minister, he should abide by the national agenda," said Abdel Rahman.
Iran had close ties with Israel when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in power. When the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the shah, Iran broke ties with Israel and turned the Israeli Embassy into the Palestinian Authority embassy.