AP: The top Hamas leader said he is concerned about the postelection turmoil in Iran but does not think it will endanger Tehran's support for the Palestinian militant group.
The Associated Press
By ZEINA KARAM
BEIRUT (AP) — The top Hamas leader said he is concerned about the postelection turmoil in Iran but does not think it will endanger Tehran's support for the Palestinian militant group.
The unrest triggered by the Iranian president's disputed June 12 re-election has consumed the country's leadership, raising questions about whether it can maintain its strong influence in other parts of the Middle East, including through its support for groups like Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Iran is a top supporter of Hamas, and its leader, Khaled Mashaal, traveled to Tehran in February to thank the government for its backing during Israel's offensive in Gaza, calling it a "partner in victory."
Mashaal said in an interview with Qatari newspaper al-Watan that is to be published Sunday that he did not think that support was in danger.
"No doubt what is happening in Iran concerns and worries us, but we consider it to be an internal affair," Mashaal said, according to an advance copy of the interview. "But we are definitely not worried about the relationship with Iran or the support that Iran offers us."
Mashaal's office in Syria, where he lives in exile, confirmed the comments, his first public remarks on the turmoil in Iran.
Israel and the United States accuse Iran of supplying Hamas with weapons, including rockets. Tehran denies it, but says it does support Hamas financially with what is believed to be hundreds of millions of dollars. The funding has been vital for sustaining Hamas under the crippling blockade that Israel and Egypt have imposed on Gaza since Hamas took over the Palestinian territory by force in 2007.
Mashaal said that, like Iran's cleric-led regime, he believed Western powers were fueling the unrest in Iran. He said the turmoil was largely a result of domestic Iranian dynamics but that "Western fingers" were fanning the flames.
Mashaal also denied talk that Hamas was seeking to impose a strict Islamic lifestyle in the Gaza Strip through a "virtue campaign" that would include pressuring women to wear head scarves.
Mashaal was asked, in particular, about a recent order by Gaza's chief supreme court judge for female lawyers to wear head scarves and dark robes or be barred from courtrooms when their work resumes Sept. 1.
He said the order was made by the judge, not the Hamas government, adding that Hamas was "still dealing with the matter."
"We will not impose a strict interpretation of religion on anyone," he said.
Mashaal also said there is no real progress in talks for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was seized by militants linked to Hamas three years ago.
Talks to trade Schalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israel have been unsuccessful.