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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas exiled leader Khaled Mashaal thanked his Iranian backers, saying Teheran played a "big role" in helping the terror group during the IDF's Operation Cast Lead offensive in Gaza, Iranian state television reported Monday.
Khaled Mashaal's visit to Iran was his first since the IDF operation in late December.
The "people of Gaza ... have always appreciated the political and spiritual support of the Iranian leaders and nation," state TV quoted Mashaal as saying.
"Iran has definitely played a big role in the victory of the people of Gaza and is a partner in that victory," Mashaal, who lives in Syria, told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a meeting, according to state TV.
Ahmadinejad warned that the IDF could be plotting another invasion on Gaza and urged countries to boycott Israeli goods. The Iranian leader also reiterated his earlier calls that Israeli leaders be taken to court for the Gaza offensive, although it wasn't clear what court he had in mind and no other details were provided. "World political pressure should continue against the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
Later Monday, Mashaal received a warm welcome by hundreds of Iranians at a ceremony at Teheran University. The crowd praised Mashaal by chanting "hail to the soldier of holy war."
Mashaal rarely travels and usually keeps his movements secretive. But before Iran, Mashaal visited Qatar to thank officials in the Gulf Arab country for their support of Hamas during the offensive.
On Sunday, Mashaal said Hamas opposes international efforts "that would deprive the Gaza people of weapons" and Gazans have the "right to resist and access weapons to achieve our rights."