Haniyeh trip Tehran highlights Hamas rift

Zahar calls Mashaal-Abbas agreement a ‘mistake’; At Tehran rally with Haniyeh, Ahmadinejad says nuclear program advances to be announced soon.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh arrives in Tehran Iran 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh arrives in Tehran Iran 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
The dispute within Hamas over last week’s Qatar-sponsored reconciliation pact with Fatah reached its peak over the weekend, with the Islamist movement’s leaders in the Gaza Strip coming out against it publicly.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Tehran over the weekend, and fiery statements he and his hosts made, are also seen as a severe blow to the reconciliation deal.
Haniyeh on Saturday attended a rally marking the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in a speech at the rally that Iran would soon announce advances in its nuclear program.
“In the coming days the world will witness Iran’s announcement of its very important and very major nuclear achievements,” Reuters quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Demonstrators carrying Iranian flags and pictures of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”
Ahmadinejad provided no details of how Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says has only peaceful purposes, has progressed. Iran has warned of a “painful” answer if it is attacked, saying that it would hit Israeli and American bases in the Gulf, and block the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.
“If attacked by the Zionist regime [Israel], we will turn it to dust,” said Muhammad Shirdel, a Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported on Saturday.
“Thousands of our missiles will target Israel and the 40 bases of America in the region,” he added.
The nuclear dispute has fueled tension as the West tightens sanctions. The European Union has agreed to ban Iranian oil imports by July and to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank.
Its measures reinforce those imposed by the US, as the West attempts to force Tehran to return to talks before it produces enough nuclear material for an atomic bomb.
Neither side has shown much appetite for compromise. Iran says it will fight EU sanctions with counter-measures and its parliament plans to pass legislation to ban oil exports to the EU.
Iranian officials brushed off the impact of sanctions, while also proclaiming that Iranians will endure any hardship in support of their country’s right to nuclear technology.
“I am saying openly that if you [the West] continue to use the language of force and threat, our nation will never succumb to your pressure,” Ahmadinejad said.
At another rally in Tehran, Haniyeh declared that Hamas would never recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Haniyeh said that the jihad and resistance were Hamas’s strategic choice “for liberating Jerusalem and al-Aksa.” He also dismissed Israeli and American threats against Iran.
The Hamas prime minister arrived in Tehran on Friday for a three-day visit during which he is scheduled to meet with Iran’s supreme leader and president. His visit to Iran came despite appeals from Qatar and other Gulf countries, which want to see Hamas distance itself from Tehran and Damascus.
Haniyeh’s visit to Iran is also seen as a challenge to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who has moved closer to Qatar and other Gulf countries since he left his headquarters in Syria.
Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are opposed to Mashaal’s recent deal with Mahmoud Abbas – especially the part that calls for appointing the PA president as prime minister of a unity government.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said Saturday that the deal was a “mistake.” He added that the appointment of Abbas as prime minister was completely rejected by Hamas.
Zahar told the Egyptian news agency Asharq Al-Awsat that Mashaal did not consult with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere about the Qatar-brokered deal.