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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

New Hamas leader says relations with Iran have been restored

Yehiyeh Sinwar, who spent about 25 years in an Israeli prison, said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel and prefers to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished enclave

Yahya Sinwar, centre, the new leader of the Hamas Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip, said on August 28, 2017 that his group has restored relations with Iran 
Mahmud Hams/AFP Photo
Yahya Sinwar, centre, the new leader of the Hamas Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip, said on August 28, 2017 that his group has restored relations with Iran Mahmud Hams/AFP Photo

Hamas' new leader in the Gaza Strip on Monday said his group has restored relations with Iran and is using its newfound financial and military aid from the country to gear up for a new round of battle with Israel.

Yehiyeh Sinwar delivered his assessment as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting neighbouring Israel. At a meeting with the UN chief, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he said was rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies across the region.

Iran was once Hamas' top backer. But Hamas broke away from Iran in 2012 after it refused to support Iran's close ally, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Mr Sinwar said those ties have been repaired and were stronger than ever.

"Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent," said Mr Sinwar. He said the Islamic Republic is "the largest backer financially and militarily" to Hamas' military wing.

Monday marked the first time that Mr Sinwar has met with reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old has close ties with Hamas' militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides to his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated US$50 million (Dh29.4m) a month to Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel's destruction.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the western-backed president Mahmoud Abbas' forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel.

Mr Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for "rebuilding and accumulating" Hamas' military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to "liberate Palestine".

"Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, [dig] tunnels, and train frogmen," he said. "The relationship with Iran is in this context."

But the shadowy leader, who spent about 25 years in an Israeli prison, said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there. The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of close to 50 percent and widespread poverty.

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