Hamas leader praises Soleimani at Tehran funeral in show of support for Iran

Haniyeh tells mourners that Palestinian terror groups owe Quds Force general thanks for his backing; vows assassination will only strengthen drive ‘toward liberation of Palestine’

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

The leader of the Hamas terror group spoke at the Tehran funeral of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Monday, crediting the Quds Force leader  with building his and other Palestinian groups.

What Soleimani “provided to Palestine and the resistance has brought them to the position they are in today in terms of power and steadfastness,” Haniyeh said.

Dubbing Soleimani “the martyr of Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said his death would not deter Palestinian terror groups from fighting Israel.

“I affirm that the resistance project in Palestine to confront the Zionist project and resist the American domination project will not be broken, be weakened or hesitate,” Haniyeh said. “It will continue along its firm path, the path of resistance, until it drives out the occupiers from our land and Jerusalem.”

Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, had an outsize role in managing Iran’s network of proxy groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

While Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, has at times been supported by Iran, it has also resisted moving too close to hardliners in Tehran, unlike fellow Gazan terror group Islamic Jihad, which has built up a large arsenal thanks in large degree to support from the Islamic Republic.

Iran and Hamas have in recent years sought to reinvigorate their relationship after the two found themselves on opposite sides in the early years of the Syrian civil war. In the past several years, senior Hamas figures have visited Tehran and praised the Islamic Republic for vowing to support Palestinian terror groups in Gaza. However, Hamas has also sought to maintain ties with other countries such as Egypt which largely views Iran as a regional foe.

Haniyeh’s appearance at the Tehran funeral for Soleimani, alongside Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders of the Islamic Republic, could be read as a signal that the group is seeking to identify more closely with Iran.

But it comes as Hamas has also shown a willingness to work more closely with Egypt on a truce agreement with Israel, which has been taking shape in recent weeks.

Hamas notably stayed on the sidelines during a flare-up between Israel and Gaza’s Iran-backed Islamic Jihad in November, reportedly annoying some in Tehran. A column in a Tehran daily last week accused Hamas of allying with Israel by refusing to enter the fight.

But pictures from the funeral posted by Khamenei’s website showed Haniyeh just steps behind the supreme leader, and he was one of only a handful of speakers, including Soleimani’s children.

Ismail Haniyeh, in third row, behind Ali Khamenei, center, at a Tehran funeral for Qassem Soleimani on January 6, 2020. (Khamenei.ir)

Haniyeh, who left Gaza in December on a multi-country tour, the first time he has traveled beyond Egypt since 2017, told the crowd that the “resistance” will not be bowed in its aims by assassinations.

A Hamas policeman in Gaza City stands guard during a mourning ceremony for slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani (portrait) killed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in a US airstrike a day earlier, on January 4, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

“I say that the project of resistance in Palestine and the region will not be weakened or fall into a recession,” Haniyeh said. “Assassinations will only make us more strong, and persevere and insistent on moving toward the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine.”

The Hamas chief called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday and expressed his condolences to him on the death of Soleimani.

Zarif thanked the Hamas chairman for the call and said that Iran would continue to back “the Palestinian people’s rights and resistance in defense of its land and holy sites,” the terror group’s report said.

On Saturday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad set up a mourning tent for Soleimani in Gaza.

Haniyeh’s appearance at the funeral came as hundreds of thousands of people massed in Tehran to bid farewell to Soleimani, the country’s most powerful general. He was killed in a US drone strike early Friday near Baghdad airport in an attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.

Mourners gather to pay homage to top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, after he was killed in a US strike in Baghdad, in the capital Tehran on January 6, 2020. (Atta KENARE / AFP)

Mourners chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” and waved flags of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon among others, as they marched down Tehran’s Enghelab Street on Monday morning.

Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani, wept at one point during the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead. The crowd and others wailed.

Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s replacement as head of the expeditionary Quds force, stood near Khamenei’s side, as did Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders in the Islamic Republic.

While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly killed over 300 people, Soleimani’s mass processionals has seen politicians and leaders across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum take part, temporarily silencing that anger.

Mourners burn flags of the US and Israel during a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The procession was broadcast live on state television, with screens bearing a black ribbon across the top left hand corner in a rare tribute.

The massive crowd was the latest to turn out for Soleimani as his body was flown to several cities before being a planned burial in his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday. Analysts say the large crush of mourners has been rivaled only by the 1989 funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Zeinab, daughter of Qassem Soleimani, speaks at her father’s funeral in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the US military in the Mideast and said that America and Israel faced a “dark day” for her father’s killing, Al Jazeera reported.

“The families of US soldiers in the Middle East will spend their days waiting for death of their children,” she said to cheers from a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran that stretched as far as the eye could see.

“Hey crazy Trump, you are the symbol of stupidity and a toy in the hand of international Zionists,” she added, according to CNN.

Soleimani’s remains were returned to Iran on Sunday and paraded through the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz before being taken to second city Mashhad, in the country’s far northeast.

The Revolutionary Guards said the overwhelming number of mourners in Mashhad forced the cancellation of a ceremony that had been planned in Tehran on Sunday night.

His body is expected to be taken to the holy city of Qom later Monday.

The strike on Soleimani has raised fears of snowballing into a larger conflict as Iran has vowed to take revenge and Trump has threatened a disproportionate response to any Iranian reprisal.

Also raising the stakes, Iran said late Sunday it was further rolling back its commitments to a nuclear deal in tatters since Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May 2018.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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