Iran plans 'Palestine Conference'

Teheran gathering set to coincide with Egyptian conference on rebuilding Gaza; PA hasn't received invitation.

mashaal ahmadinejad 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
mashaal ahmadinejad 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran plans to hold a conference in support of Gaza at the beginning of March, and has sent out invitations to several regional leaders. The conference will be held in the capital Teheran March 4-5, and will be attended by senior Iranian officials and parliament speakers from several countries. Iran has invited officials from Bahrain, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman, Sudan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Palestinians in the Diaspora. Iran is also inviting "leaders of Palestinian groups," the official news agency IRNA reported. Palestinian representatives are more likely to include members of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, rather than representatives of the Palestinian Authority. Nimr Hammad, an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said PA officials had not received a formal invitation to attend the conference. "I think they decided to do something at the same time that Egypt is organizing a conference for rebuilding Gaza on March 2," he told The Media Line. "There's a contradiction between what the Iranians are planning and the conference organized by Egypt with the participation of the European Union, the United States, Japan and other countries." Nimr said the PA would be represented at the conference in Cairo. The timing of the planned conference in Teheran, and its clash with the Egypt gathering is no coincidence. Many perceived Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza, which ended on January 17, as a larger regional battle that pitted extremist Arabs against what is often described as more moderate Arab powers. Syria, Iran and Qatar supported Hamas in the conflict, whereas Egypt and Saudi Arabia took a more muted stance towards the operation and are seen to be on the side of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. It stands to reason that Hamas, which has close ties with Iran, will be represented at the conference rather than Fatah delegates. Experts say Iran provides Hamas with ammunition, weapons, military training, as well as political backing. Evidence to back these claims includes testimonies of Palestinian terrorists who were seized by the Israelis and admitted to receiving training and other assistance from Iran, and insignia on weaponry fired from Gaza that can be traced back to Iran. Iran is a Muslim Shi'ite country and its Khomeinistic ideology is different from that of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged, but they have a lot in common to justify cooperation, such as animosity towards Israel and the West. Israel concluded its 22-day operation in Gaza on January 17. The aim of the assault was to end the firing of rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip onto Israel. More than 1,300, including civilians, were killed during the offensive. The rift between the rival organizations, Fatah and Hamas, was accentuated by Hamas's victory in the legislative election in January 2006 and worsened after Hamas's takeover of Gaza in 2007. The coup caused a de facto rift between the internationally isolated Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and the government in Ramallah, which is backed by Fatah and has the support of the West.