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    Masked militants from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, ride vehicles during a rally marking Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day in Nusseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, Friday, June 23, 2017

    Friends Again: Iran Becomes Hamas’ Biggest Backer Once More

    © AP Photo / Adel Hana
    Middle East
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    Hamas, the governing authority of the Gaza Strip, has a new leader - and one of his first tasks was repairing the organization’s relationship with their former backer Iran. New Gazan Prime Minister Yahya Sinwar appears to have had some success, and is reporting that Iran is once more the largest backer of Hamas’ military wing.

    Sinwar, who took office in February 2017, spoke to journalists for the first time on Monday. He said that Iran is "the largest backer financially and militarily" of the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. With Ira's help, Sinwar said, Hamas will "[develop] our military strength in order to liberate Palestine."

    "The Iranian military support to Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic," Sinwar added, saying the once-flagging relationship had "become fantastic and returned to its former era."

    However, he added, Hamas would also take "every effort to avoid a war … At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it."

    In the latter 2000s, Iran became a principal backer of Hamas, providing over a quarter of their budget in 2006 according to Matthew Levitt with the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Levitt added that their financial aid operated as a sort of "bounty," rewarding video footage of attacks on Israeli holdings with direct financing to Hamas militants.

    When stringent sanctions were levied against Iran by the United Nations in 2008, the Islamic Republic backed off on their support of Hamas to focus on their own economic well-being. Since 2011, Iranian support to Hamas has slowed to a trickle because Hamas threw their weight behind the Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War, while Iran backed the Syrian government.

    At the beginning of August, a Hamas delegation attended the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is entering his second term. Tehran and Hamas agreed to "turn a new page in bilateral relations." Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement that he was "ready to put aside all disagreements [with Hamas] for the sake of supporting Palestine and the Palestinian people as well as the unity of the Muslim world."

    Asharq al-Awsat, a newspaper owned by a member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia (which considers Iran to be their chief rival and the al-Qassam Brigades to be a terrorist organization), wrote that al-Qassam leaders also met with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (the paramilitary branch of the Iranian military) to discuss "common issues."

    Khaled Mashal, who led Hamas from 2004 to 2017, oversaw the disintegration of the Hamas-Iran relationship. However, Asharq al-Awsat reported that Tehran saw Sinwar and the other new Hamas leaders as more amenable to reconciliation and compromise.

    Before Sinwar's announcement, Hamas' two largest state-based backers were Qatar and Turkey. But Doha, which pledged in 2012 to donate $250 million to Hamas, faces an economic crisis of their own as the result of a Saudi-led blockade and embargo.

    Since 2008, Hamas has engaged in numerous battles with Israel over the Gaza Strip. Since the bloody 2014 clashes that left some 1,800-2,600 dead, with civilians making up to 70 percent of casualties on the Gazan side according to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, an uneasy ceasefire has overtaken the region. Israel claimed that the fighting severely lessened Hamas' fighting capacity, an allegation that Hamas denies.

    Hamas and/or the al-Qassam Brigades are considered a terrorist group by Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. China, Qatar, Russia and Turkey are among the prominent nations that do not designate Hamas as a terrorist group.

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    Tags:
    financial assistance, military assistance, diplomatic relations, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Rouhani, Yahya Sinwar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Palestinian Territories, Israel, Gaza
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