The new Gaza leader of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas said Monday it has restored relations with Iran and is gearing up for future hostilities with Israel.
Yahya Sinwar told reporters that Iran is now “the largest backer financially and militarily” of Hamas’s armed wing. It was his first meeting with journalists since taking up his post in February.
Sinwar said that with Iran’s help, Hamas is accumulating military power in preparation for a battle for “the liberation of Palestine.”
Hamas is “developing our military strength in order to liberate Palestine,” Sinwar said, but he also stressed that it does not seek war for now “and takes every effort to avoid a war… At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it.”
“The Iranian military support to Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic,” he added, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era.”
“Every day we build missiles and continue military training,” he added, saying that thousands of people are working “day and night” to prepare for the next conflict.
Iran was once Hamas’s largest backer, but relations cooled after Hamas refused to back Iran’s close ally Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war.
Earlier this month, a high-level Hamas delegation traveled to Iran to attend the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani, and to “turn a new page in bilateral relations” between the two sides.
It was the first visit to Iran by Hamas officials since the group elected new leadership earlier in 2017. The rapprochement between Hamas and Iran is reportedly being facilitated by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran.
The Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, which is Saudi-influenced, reported at the time that Hamas officials representing the terror group’s military wing also met with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force that answers directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and discussed “common issues.”
According to the report, Iran was keen to restore ties with Hamas after Ismail Haniyeh was elected as head of Hamas’s political bureau and Sinwar as the group’s Gaza chief. Both are considered to be more open to reconciliation with Iran than was Khaled Mashaal, the former political leader of Hamas.
The group is in sore need of funds and backing as its current top patron, Qatar, is under fire from Gulf allies for supporting it.
During the Hamas delegation’s visit in Tehran earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Palestinian issue remained a top foreign policy priority for his government, which was “ready to put aside all disagreements [with Hamas] for the sake of supporting Palestine and the Palestinian people as well as the unity of the Muslim world.”
The Islamist terror group seized Gaza in a near civil war with forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. The two factions have been at loggerheads ever since.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, tunneling under the border and firing thousands of rockets into Israel, and is committed to destroying the Jewish state. Israel maintains a security blockade on Gaza designed to prevent the terror group from importing weapons.