Syria and the Islamist group Hamas hailed the victory on Saturday of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election.

"The results of the elections in Iran show the wide public support for Iran's policy of challenge," said Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, in a statement.

"The results also show that the official level in Iran succeeded in sponsoring and maintaining the people's interests and hopes and protecting them from the [Western] threats."

On Saturday Syrian President Bashir Assad sent Ahmadinejad a cable in which offered him his "best wishes for progress and prosperity" to the Iranian people, AFP reported, quoting the Syrian news agency SANA.

The SANA report said that Assad "expressed his faith that relations and cooperation will be reinforced between Syria and Iran."

The militant Hamas is widely viewed as an Iranian proxy, receiving financial and military support from the Islamic Republic.

Barhoum added that he hoped Iran "will continue supporting Hamas and boosting its staying power."

Ahmadinejad, 52, has clashed with the West over his expansion of Iran's nuclear program, and stirred international outrage by denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Palestinians watched the Iranian vote closely as Iran is a major patron of Hamas, which ousted the forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas two years ago.

Abbas and his aides have in the past accused Iran of meddling in Palestinian affairs and making Palestinian reconciliation more difficult.

An Abbas aide, Saeb Erekat, hinted at Iran's role Saturday. "We want Iran to take the side of Palestine, not this faction or that faction," he said.

Arab League chief congratulates Ahmadinejad

Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his victory Saturday.

"We hope that the next term would witness progress on the relations between Iran and the Arab world and cooperation in establishing peace in the Middle East," he said.

"Also that the security, regional security in the region will be paramount in working together to free the region from all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons."

Pro-West Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are seen as fearing Iran's nuclear program, to which Moussa's comments were apparently a reference.

Ali Al-Dabbagh, the spokesman for Iraq's government, said his nation would deal with any choice that is decided by the Iranian people.

"Iraq is free in drawing its relations with others without being a shadow for any state in the region," he told reporters.

"Iraq hopes to maintain friendly relations with Iran, based on the principles set by the Iraqi government and without [Iranian] interference in Iraqi affairs."