Top Hamas officials recently met in Lebanon with senior representatives of the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in an effort to come to agreement on the resumption of Iranian financial assistance to Hamas, which is facing severe financial difficulties.
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The parties have agreed in principle on a deal which will see Iran resume its financial aid to Hamas, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday.
The agreement will restore the support that Iran provided to the group prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, which caused a rift over Tehran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas’ support for Sunni rebels battling against him.
Hamas, a Sunni Muslim movement, and Iran, whose citizens are almost all Shi’ites, have also agreed that Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political bureau chief, will visit Tehran shortly in an effort to resume contacts and overcome unresolved issues.
According to Asharq al-Awsat, the Iranians had been waiting for Hamas to conclude its leadership selection process, which saw the appointment of Haniyeh as political bureau chief and of Yahya Sinwar as the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Iranians are very satisfied with Haniyeh’s appointment since Tehran is not enamored, to put it mildly, with the other contender for the post, Moussa Abu Marzouk. (At one point a recording surfaced in which Abu Marzouk accuses the Iranians of engaging in extortion in exchange for Iran’s aid to Hamas.)
In the course of the meetings in Lebanon, the Iranians have also forgone their demand that Hamas take Iran’s side in its power struggle with Saudi Arabia, the London daily added.
However, Abu Marzouk, who serves as deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, insisted on Tuesday that there has been no change in relations between Hamas and Iran and that reports of an improvement in ties are nothing more than a media invention. Ties between Hamas and Tehran had never been severed, he added.
It should be noted that Asharq al-Awsat, which cited Palestinian sources in its report, is a Saudi-owned publication and has an interest in disclosing the reported meetings even if the rapprochement between Hamas and Iran is not an entirely new development. At a major Hamas event in Gaza two years ago, which included a military parade, a spokesman for the organization's military wing thanked Iran for its assistance and support. The mention was an indication of the beginning of a thaw in relations that had soured over the Syrian war and triggered Hamas moving its Damascus offices to Doha in Qatar.
Among other signs of improved relations are positive comments by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iranian President Hassan Rohani this week about cooperation between Qatar and Iran, coming just after the summit of U.S. President Donald Trump and Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the message was largely anti-Iranian.
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which had a patron in Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, but he was deposed by Egypt’s current president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who has curtailed the Brotherhood’s influence.
Hamas is in desperate need of outside assistance and Iran could be a central pillar of such support. In Hamas and in the Gaza Strip as a whole, there is an acute awareness of what Iranian support could mean for the organization's relations with countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as with the international community.
These developments follow the adoption of Hamas' new policy platform last month, in which the movement sought to present itself as more moderate. The sense among officials in Gaza is that the ties with Tehran will be left vague and will be based mainly on military assistance.