Iran urges visiting Hamas leader Meshal to keep resisting Israel

By News Agencies

Haaretz

Adar 16, 5767

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged visiting Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshal on Tuesday to keep fighting Israel, state television said.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah group. Tehran denies the charges.

"The [Palestinian] government should use its brave and pious forces to continue resistance against the Zionist regime [Israel]," Ahmadinejad told Meshal at the start of his two-day visit to Iran, state television reported.

Meanwhile, Meshal on Tuesday extracted from Iran a pledge to fund his radical Palestinian movement to compensate for the West's financial blockade of the Palestinian government.

Iran refuses to recognize Israel and Ahmadinejad has called Israel a "tumor" which must be "wiped off the map." Iran's support for the Palestinians has grown more vocal since Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005.

Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to form a unity government, in a bid to end Palestinian infighting.

Washington has warned Abbas that peace talks with Israel will go nowhere if his Fatah faction joins the agreed unity government with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel.

Meshal said Hamas had no intention of changing its policy to recognize Israel. "Our stance remains the same as before the Mecca deal," he told reporters after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Israel has vowed to boycott the unity government unless it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace deals.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to meet Abbas as early as Sunday, before the unity government is formed, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.

Meshal praised Iran for its "financial, political and moral" support to the Palestinian nation and the government.

"We are looking forward for Iran's support to the Palestinian nation and government ... to break Palestine's economic and political isolation," Meshal said.

Shi'ite Muslim Iran has offered financial support after a shortfall caused by a Western financial blockade on the Hamas-led government since last year.

Meshal will meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on Wednesday.

Meshal secures Iranian pledge of fund
Meshal extracted from Iran a pledge to fund his radical Palestinian movement to compensate for the West's financial blockade of the Palestinian government.

Meshal, who arrived in Iran early Tuesday, told a press conference with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that Iran had been giving financial and political support to the Palestinians, whose government has been cut off from Western aid since Hamas took office in March last year.

"We still look forward to get support [from Iran] to break the political and economic sanctions," Meshal said.

Mottaki told reporters that Iran would continue to provide money to Hamas, but he did not give any figures.

Iran is known to have given $120 million to Hamas since it took office following its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections. But there was no word Tuesday on what more would be donated.

The major aid donors to the Palestinian Authority - the United States, the European Union and Canada - cut off aid because Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel and the previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last month, Meshal and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas signed a Saudi-brokered agreement in Mecca under which they would form a coalition government and Hamas promised to respect the previous agreements.

The United States and others are waiting for the coalition to be formed before declaring whether the Mecca agreement warrants a resumption of aid.

Mottaki has said his government backed the Mecca accord. Iran supports this initiative, and it also supports any step toward achieving greater unity among Palestinians, the foreign minister said.

Iran had close ties with Israel when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in power. However after the shah was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution, the new Iranian government broke ties with Israel and turned the former Israeli Embassy into a Palestinian embassy.