Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iran calls on Muslims to fund Hamas leadership

BROTHERLY SUPPORT While Iran pledged to aid Hamas, Israel warned it would do everything to block money from the `international pariah'

AP , JAKARTA AND TEHRAN

Iran's foreign minister yesterday called on Muslim nations to give money to the Hamas-led Pales-tinian Authority after threats of funding cuts by the US and Israel.

"We have the responsibility as Muslim countries to support our brothers in Palestine," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters during a brief visit to Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other nation.

He said that a plan by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to collect donations and provide institutional support for Hamas should be supported.

On Wednesday, Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, issued the pledge of support after a meeting with Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political leader, in Tehran.

However, Israel was to quick warn that it would do everything it legally can to block money from Iran, and warned the Palestinians against aligning with what it called an international pariah.

Identical strategy

Iran, one of Hamas' strongest backers, shares a nearly identical regional political strategy with the group that won last month's Palestinian elections by a landslide. Both have called for the destruction of Israel and neither recognizes the Jewish state.

Hamas, which grabbed a surprising parliamentary majority in last month's elections, has refused Western demands to renounce violence, accept Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The US and EU, which consider Hamas a terrorist group, have said they will halt their grants of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority after a Hamas government takes office unless it changes its attitude toward Israel and violence.

"The United States proved that it would not support democracy after it cut its aid to the Palesti-nian government after Hamas won the elections. We will certainly help the Palestinians," Larijani said, according to an Iran radio report.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "The incoming Palestinian leadership has to decide if it wants to be part of the legitimate international community or if it wants, through its own actions, to align itself with international pariahs."

Israel regards Iran as a pariah for its support of militant groups such as Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, and it accuses Tehran of seeking to produce nuclear weapons -- a charge Iran denies.

Last year Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be "wiped off" the map and said the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews during the World War II Holocaust was a myth.

Nuclear weapons

Israel is thought to maintain a nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle East, with some 200 warheads, a capability it refuses to discuss.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday asked moderate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to form a government.

In Kuwait, the Salafi Movement -- a Sunni Muslim extremist group -- called on Muslims and Arabs to offer financial support to Hamas, the "legitimate and elected representative" of the Palestinian people.

The movement said Hamas was the target of "cheap political blackmail by categorizing it as a terrorist group and pressuring it ... to make essential concessions the most important of which is recognizing Israel."

Mashaal and his delegation were in Iran in the latest stop of a tour of Arab and Islamic nations aimed at building support as Israel and the US move to shut the funding spigot.

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