Senior Hamas delegation arrives in Tehran for talks

Discussions said to focus on Palestinian unity deal, while Iran says support depends on continued fight against Israel

Hamas deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

A high-ranking Hamas delegation began a 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 said.

The group led by deputy chief Salah al-Arouri will meet senior Iranian officials over the next several days, the representative said on condition of anonymity, after Israel insisted it will not recognize any unity Palestinian government unless Hamas cuts off ties with Tehran.

The two Palestinians factions have agreed a landmark deal to end a decade-long split and are seeking to form a unity government along with other parties.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 with Iranian backing, but is expected to hand it over to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

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 repeatedly 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 visit is the second such visit in the space of three months.

Arouri is in charge, among other things, of Hamas’s terrorist activities in the West Bank. He headed the delegation that went to Tehran in August.

Arouri, who lives in exile in Beirut after he was expelled from Turkey and Qatar, had reportedly met with senior Iranian officials in preparation for the delegation that landed in Tehran on Friday.

Osama Hamdan, the Hamas official in charge of the terror group’s international relations, was also present in the preliminary meetings, Ynet said.

According to the report, in the meeting with Arouri and Hamdan, an Iranian official, Hossein Amir Abd el-Lahian, said that much of the support from Iran was contigent on them continuign the fight against Israel, which he called the “axis of resistance.”

Lahian stressed that Iran was supporting Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas because of their unity in fighting the “Zionist entity.” He also predicted failure for the efforts of several Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel.

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.”

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