x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Palestinian tensions over Iran summit attendance

Indecision over whether the Hamas prime minister will attend a meeting of non-aligned nations in Iran underlines the deep divisions in Palestinian leadership.

RAMALLAH // Confusion over whether the Hamas prime minister will attend a meeting of non-aligned nations in Iran this week has sharpened tensions with Palestinian rivals and has underscored the Islamist group's uncertain position.

Hamas officials confirmed on Saturday the Gaza-based premier, Ismail Haniyeh, had accepted an invitation to attend a gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran, which was expected to open later this week.

But both Iranian and Hamas officials appeared to backtrack yesterday, after the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, threatened on Saturday to skip the meeting if Mr Haniyeh attended. Mr Abbas received an invitation to attend.

A Hamas-linked website stated that Mr Haniyeh "won't attend Tehran NAM summit". Moreover, two semi-official Iranian news agencies, ISNA and Mehr, quoted the summit's spokesperson, Mohammad Forqani, as saying the Hamas leader was not invited.

That contradicted news reports over the weekend saying that Mr Haniyeh was invited to the gathering of 120 developing nations as a guest of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The issue highlights divisions within the Palestinian leadership and has exacerbated bad blood between Hamas and Fatah and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), both of which Mr Abbas chairs. Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007. Recent efforts to reconcile the factions have foundered because of political differences and bickering over holding Palestinian elections.

The PA's prime minister, Salam Fayyad, implored his Hamas counterpart in a statement issued on Saturday not to attend the summit, calling it a "stab in the back of the Palestinian national project".

"The Palestinian Liberation Organisation is the sole representative of all the Palestinian people," Mr Fayyad said. Hamas has received money and, some say, weapons from Iran, but its ties with Tehran have been complicated after the group dismantled its headquarters in Damascus last year.

That decision was prompted by the killing of thousands of people by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al Assad, during an 18-month uprising. Iran is a firm ally of Mr Al Assad's government.