A top aide to Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei praised Hamas for not abandoning its armed struggle against Israel, during a meeting Saturday with the terror group’s visiting delegation in Tehran.
“We congratulate you for declaring that you will not set your weapons aside and for describing it as your red line,” said international affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
In a separate meeting Saturday, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, sent a similar message to the terror group, expressing hope that Hamas would continue to be a “central pioneer of the Palestinian resistance,” according to Iran’s Press TV.
During the meeting, Shamkhani condemned ostensible American and Israeli attempts to remove the Palestinian issue from the international agenda, the report said.
“The US and the Zionist regime feel threatened by any balance shift in the Middle East in favor of regional people and governments engaged in the fight against terrorism,” Shamkhani said. “They seek to obstruct the path of anti-terrorism fight by bringing up unfounded pretexts such as blocking Iran’s regional sway.”
Hamas deputy chief Salah al-Arouri, who is leading the delegation, thanked Iran for its patronage and noted that senior officials in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were interested in expanding ties with Tehran.
The high-ranking Hamas delegation began its visit to Iran on Friday to inform its backers in Tehran about reconciliation efforts with rival Palestinian faction Fatah, an official from the terror group told AFP.
The two Palestinians factions earlier this month in Cairo agreed on a landmark deal to end a decade-long split and are seeking to form a unity government along with other parties.
During talks in Cairo, Arouri said Hamas and Fatah “confronted” three preconditions set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for dealing with any Palestinian government in which Hamas sits — that Hamas disarm, recognize Israel and cut all relations with Iran.
Regarding the first and second demands, he said, “We’re not in the stage of recognition; rather we are now in the stage of preparing to eliminate the Zionist entity.” As for the third, cutting relations with Iran, he said, “Our visit to Tehran is our practical rejection to the Israeli demand to cut ties with it.”
The Hamas delegation also met with the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani.
“The enemies are seeking to abolish you, to portray you as an ineffectual movement in the eyes of your people. It behooves you not to allow them to succeed in their divisive endeavors,” Larijani told the Hamas delegation.
“What matters is that the Palestinian factions put their differences aside and unite against the Zionist entity,” he added.
Velayati, the adviser to Khameini, said Teheran would be increasing its support for Palestinian terrorist groups.
“We want to prove to the Zionist entity that strategic relations between Iran and the Palestinian resistance, represented by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, will not ever be served. Rather, Iran’s support for the resistance will increase day by day,” he said.
He added, “We are confident that Hamas is faithful to the rights of the Palestinian people, and therefore cannot give up on the Palestinian fundamental principles, the resistance, and its weapons.”
Hamas has controlled Gaza with Iran’s backing since ousting the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in a violent coup in 2007. Under the recent deal between the two factions, Hamas is set to hand administration of the Strip back to Fatah while retaining its massive fighting force.
The United States has said any joint government must recognize Israel and disarm Hamas, but the group has stridently rejected the conditions.
“No one in the universe can disarm us. On the contrary, we will continue to have the power to protect our citizens,” Hamas Gaza head Yahya Sinwar said Thursday.
Previous attempts at reconciling the Palestinian factions have failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if it will change anything on the ground. A major sticking point is expected to be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong armed wing.
The Hamas delegation’s visit was the second in the space of three months.
Arouri is in charge, among other things, of Hamas’s terrorist activities in the West Bank. He also headed the delegation that went to Tehran in August.
He lives in exile in Beirut after being expelled from Turkey and Qatar.
When Fatah and Hamas signed their reconciliation agreement in Cairo last week, Arouri, who headed the Hamas delegation that negotiated the deal, said Palestinian unity was vital “so that we can all work together against the Zionist enterprise.”
AFP contributed to this report.