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Tehran To Donate $50 Million To Hamas-Led Palestinian Government

By Valentinas Mite

Iranian officials announced at the end of an international conference on aid to Palestinians on April 16 that Tehran is donating $50 million to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority to fill gaps left by Western aid cuts. The United States and the European Union have cut off financial support to the newly elected Hamas-led government, and Israel has frozen the transfer of tax and customs revenues. That has left the already stretched Palestinian Authority desperately short of funding.

PRAGUE, April 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Palestinian Authority is reportedly nearing bankruptcy following Western powers' refusal to support a government led by Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki announced the move at the conclusion of a conference on assistance to the Palestinian people, which Tehran hosted.

"I am honored to announce that Iran has donated $50 million to help the Palestinian nation," Mottaki said.

Mottaki said the gift was Iran's duty as a friend of the Palestinians, but he did not say how or when it would reach them.

From Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri expressed Palestinian appreciation for the move.

"Today Iran announced its support for the Palestinian people," Zahri said. "We [in the Hamas movement] value the Iranian decision to financially support the Palestinian people. This Arab and Islamic support represents the natural position and the natural reaction to the Western siege on our Palestinian people and against the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki also called for broader support from the Islamic world to the new Palestinian government. "The international community and Islamic world should help the new Palestinian government to overcome its current problems," he said.

Bringing Hamas, Iran Closer?

Mustafa Alani, a regional expert at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, commented on the Iranian move by saying it indicates that the Western decision to isolate Hamas is leading to the increased influence of Iran in the region.

"This is the outcome and you're going to push Hamas into the hands of the Iranians," Alani said. "And the cost of it in long terms will be huge in the Palestinian issue. The Iranians now have basically some sort of influence over Hamas."

Alani said Arab countries should be concerned with the growing influence of the Shi'ite Iran in the region. He said strategic interests, not religion, are at stake.

"I don't look at it [Iranian move] as Islamic solidarity. I look at it as a strategic decision of Iranians," Alani said. "I don't think the question is of Islamic solidarity. Hamas is a Sunni fundamentalist movement. Iran is a fundamentalist Shi'ite state. So, I don't think there is a meeting of minds here, but the question is strategic more that it is religious in a dimension."

Alani said growing Iranian influence over Hamas is not "happy news" -- for either the West or Arab countries in the region.

More Allies Outside The Region

On April 15, Russia pledged urgent financial assistance to the Palestinian government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas that Russia would "offer urgent financial assistance" in the near future.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not specify the amount of Russian aid.

In March, Moscow hosted the high-level Hamas delegation -- frustrating some governments' efforts to ensure the continued international isolation of the group. The move is generally regarded as a bid by President Vladimir Putin to invigorate Russia's role in the Middle East peace process.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 4/18/06 ... --

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