The leader of Hamas met with a senior Iranian commander following Israel’s war with Gaza over the summer, an Arabic-language paper reported Tuesday, highlighting tightening ties between Tehran and the Palestinian terror group.
Khaled Mashaal and Iran’s al-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani held a meeting in Turkey several days after the conflict ended in late August, Saudi daily Al-Hayat reported.
Iran and Hamas have been at odds over Mashaal’s lack of support for the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, a main Iranian client, though Tehran is thought to have outfitted fighters in the Hamas-ruled Strip with weapons and missile-building know-how to use against Israel.
Mashaal was only allowed to meet with Soleimani, a powerful military leader who is thought to have led Iranian operations abroad, after receiving the green light from Hamas, according to the report, which was also carried by Israeli news site Ynet.
Although relations soured between the two sides over the Syrian civil war, they have recovered dramatically despite the fact that they they remain at odds over a number of issues.
Soleimani, however, has long trumpeted the Islamic party within Iranian political circles, encouraging Tehran to overlook Hamas’s stance on the Syrian civil war that has fragmented much of the Muslim world.
Both sides discussed the resumption of financial and military aid from Iran and possibility of having Mashaal visit the country, however the Hamas leader conditioned his visit on being received by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni.
Soleimani, a shadowy but powerful figure thought to be leading Iran’s efforts in Syria and Iraq, has recently stepped into the public eye, holding meetings with Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah following the killing of a number of Iranian and Hezbollah officers near the Israel border, and holding a rare press conference on fighting against the Islamic State.
The al-Quds Force is a special forces wing within the Iranian military that specializes in overseas operations. The 15,000 person unit is currently known to be involved in operations against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Following the meeting, a Hamas delegation convened in Tehran with regime delegates and discussed a wide range of issues, including the state of Gaza, the reception of reconstruction funds and the possibility for Hamas to open an office in a Hezbollah-controlled area of Beirut — a request Tehran rejected, according to the report.
The delegation expressed concerned that the Islamic State’s influence would grow within the restive Strip. Iran asserted that it wanted to expand its perception of being a backer of Palestinian resistance and promised to continue backing Hamas.
Israeli security officials recently told The Times of Israel that the country’s intelligence apparatus has been closely monitoring relations between the two entities and that Tehran is covertly supplying the Islamist group with weapons.
“This is not the same amount of funds given by Qatar, but it is pretty significant,” one source said.
Following the downing of a drone by an Iranian nuclear site in August, Tehran claimed that it would begin arming Palestinian militants in the West Bank as a form of revenge.
Regime officials have boasted on a number of occasions that Iranian weaponry and technology played a role during last summer’s conflict.