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While Iran is considered a country that supports terror, this does not make much of an impression on Al-Qaida, which sees the Shi'ite state as an enemy - ideologically and practically speaking.

This week, the Al-Qaida faction in the Maghreb countries published a warning to the authorities in Tehran, demanding they immediately free members of Osama bin Laden's family, who have been in Iran since the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The bin Ladens are being held under strict house arrest and are not allowed to leave the country. The statement said they are living "under inappropriate conditions," and that Al-Qaida members are prepared "to sacrifice themselves for Osama and his family and any Muslim man or woman."

The clear threat has already drawn a response from Omar, bin Laden's fourth son, who said in a telephone conversation with the Saudi Arabian newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat (published in London) that "violence will simply give birth to more violence, and this threat will merely harm my brothers who are in Iran. We are receiving good treatment and all six of my brothers, bin Laden's wife, Umm Hamza, and 11 of his grandchildren are very satisfied with the attitude of the Iranians."

One of the daughters, Iman, managed to receive political asylum in the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The Iranians, following secret negotiations with Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, let her leave for Syria. Her mother, Najwa Ghanem, was Osama bin Laden's first wife and lives in Syria.

Now other family members in the well-guarded house in Iran are seeking a new, safe haven in Syria or another country willing to receive them. It seems that Saudi Arabia, which has revoked Osama bin Laden's citizenship, is not prepared to do so. Nor do other countries, like Jordan and Morocco, seem willing to give the family refuge.

The Maghreb faction statement added: "We are wondering what crime was committed by the poor women and children other than their desire to uproot, for Allah's sake. Is it not enough that America is persecuting them so why has the Iranian regime, which claims it is Islamic, now joined the list of persecutors? "

It's doubtful that the threat impresses Iran, but it's not completely clear what is causing the Iranian regime, just now, to find another country for the family. The United States tried to persuade Tehran to hand the family members over to the U.S. The request was rejected.

The question now is whether Syria would agree to permit American intelligence officers to question any family members who go there, if indeed they are released by Iran. After the September 11 attack, Syria allowed the CIA to question family members on Syrian territory, as a goodwill gesture. That is not the sole cooperation between American and Syrian intelligence. The journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that Bashar Assad has renewed his cooperation with the CIA and with MI6 with regard to the movement of terrorists from Syrian territory to Iraq, as part of the Syrian quid pro quo for President Barack Obama's "outstretched hand" policy.

A jackpot for Hamas

Here is a paradox for the Guinness Book of Records. Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' bitter rival, decided not to renew talks with Israel until it freezes construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. That's nothing new. Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in annoying the American administration after it transpired there is a place called Ramat Shlomo and 1,600 housing units are waiting to be built there. That's old hat. However, the quid pro quo that Netanyahu was required to give the American administration so it would agree not merely to rebuke him but also to talk to him, included significant alleviation of the conditions for bringing goods into Gaza. That is something new.

Consequently, Hamas can smile broadly. It will both get goods from Israel and also show up Egypt as being worse than Israel, as Egypt does not allow the passage of goods into Gaza. Egypt will apparently have no choice but to do what Israel is doing and to introduce greater flexibility about goods going from its territory to the Gaza Strip. Thanks to Ramat Shlomo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will be able to rid himself of the "disgrace" Hamas has laid at his feet. Suddenly, Abbas has become aware that he has shot himself in the foot. Thanks to him, Hamas will be able to continue to rule Gaza without worrying that goods are not entering the Strip or about public reaction. In Israel, too, it suddenly becomes evident that even a partial lifting of the closure on Gaza makes the well-known argument of "security reasons" disappear into thin air if it's necessary to make peace with the Americans. Even Gilad Shalit can no longer serve as the pretext for continuing the closure, and this time Palestinian prisoners will be freed as a gesture and not in return for something.

If Hamas was able, with no effort, to gain such a fine victory from the Israeli-American conflict and from Abbas' riding his high horse, perhaps it's the one who knows how to handle situations like these. This change of direction has fallen into Hamas' hands at a rather convenient time, as the date for Palestinian Authority elections draws close. Hamas can rely on the assumption that if it runs in the elections, it will win and set up the government. At the moment, thanks to Netanyahu and Abbas, there is no reason to think it won't win, and it will get broad support at least from some of the European countries, from Turkey and, of course, from the Arab states.