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Iran Invites Haniyeh for Official Visit

Tehran has moved to end the thaw in its relations with Hamas as Ismail Haniyeh travels to Arab capitals to forge new alliances.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 1/25/2012, 11:51 AM

The Hamas terror organization's terror chief Ismail Haniyeh has received an official invitation from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Iran.

Hamas spokesman Tahir al-Nunu told reporters in Gaza on Tuesday that Ahmadinejad sent Haniyeh a letter congratulating him on the anniversary of Hamas' bloody 2007 putsch in Gaza and inviting him to visit Tehran.

Amid reports that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal will likely step down, Haniyeh is regarded as Mashaal's most-likely successor. Iran's invitation comes despite tensions between Hamas and Tehran over the terror organizations vocal support of anti-regime protesters in Syria.

Tehran, which counts the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a key ally in its regional axis of power, seriously reduced donations to the Hamas government in Gaza in pique. In the wake of cut Hamas, has also found itself embroiled in a running feud with Shiite competitors in Gaza.

Hamas has moved to shut down foreign-funded Shiite outreach centers in Gaza in recent months, and has had a series of simmering confrontations with Shiite terror competitors, including Hizbullah.

Hizbullah has been a staunch proponent of the Assad regime and has been widely accused of sending fighters to aid in quashing protests in the country – a charge Hizbullah denies.

The itinerary for Haniyeh's trip includes Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Sudan, Bahrain, and Qatar before it ends. In each, he has sought to cement opposition to Israel and gain financial backing for Hamas' fiscally struggling Gaza administration.

Ahmadinejad's invitation, sent during Haniyeh's first trip outside Gaza to visit Arab leaders since 2007, is said by analysts to be a gesture intended to end the thaw between Hamas and Tehran and solidify Iranian ties with ascendant Islamist parties in the region.

Some Arab analysts suggest Tehran wants to avoid Hamas' forging stronger ties with rival Gulf Arab states, such as Bahrain and Qatar, who are a part of a greater push by Saudi Arabia to block Iran's attempts to gain total hegemony over the Persian Gulf and beyond.