Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met on Monday with a delegation of officials from the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which has been struggling with the continued erosion of its foreign backing.
During the meeting, Zarif reiterated Tehran’s support for the Palestinians as “principled and unchangeable,” according to reports in Iranian state media.
The delegation of diaspora-based members of Hamas’s politburo was visiting Iran to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday.
Iran was once Hamas’s key political and financial backer, but ties began to unravel in 2012, largely due to differences over the civil war in Syria.
In May, Iran agreed in principle to renew its funding for Hamas, and senior Palestinian officials were said to be traveling to Tehran to repair relations.
Last week, Palestinian Authority officials claimed Iran provided aid to Palestinian protesters demonstrating against Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount last month. The aid reportedly included boxes of food and drink, which came with a flyer attached depicting the Dome of the Rock and a quote attributed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reading, “With the help of God, Palestine will be freed. Jerusalem is ours.”
A PA intelligence official told an Israeli newspaper at the time it was clear the Iranian regime was behind the aid packages, and estimated the initiative cost several million shekels. The move angered the PA leadership, with the unnamed official telling the Israel Hayom daily it was a mistake to allow Iran to reach into the West Bank with its “tentacles.”
Monday’s meeting in Tehran comes as Qatar, one of the other few foreign backers of Hamas, continues to face massive pressure from its Gulf neighbors to cut ties with the terrorist group. If it does, the result could be disastrous for the Gaza Strip, a territory Hamas has ruled for a decade.
— امیر طاها صالحی (@Taha_salehi20) July 29, 2017
Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, housing and a major hospital in the tiny enclave. Its infrastructure projects are one of the few job-creators in a beleaguered economy.
Gaza already suffers from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade — imposed to prevent the group from importing weaponry — economic misery and chronic electricity shortages. For Hamas, Qatar’s money pumping into the economy is a vital lifeline bolstering its rule.
Closer ties between Hamas and Iran are hardly likely to mollify the Gulf states and Egypt. One of the main factors driving the crisis is Qatar’s close ties to Tehran and fears of expanding Iranian influence further destabilizing the region.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.