Iran Offers to Fund Palestinian Authority

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 40 minutes ago

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran offered Wednesday to fund a Hamas-led Palestinian government if the West cuts off aid. But Israel vowed to block any money from Tehran and warned the Palestinians against aligning with what it called "international pariahs."

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, issued the pledge after a meeting with Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political leader. Mashaal and his delegation were in Iran on their latest stop of a tour of Arab and Islamic nations to build support.

Iran, one of Hamas' strongest backers, shares a nearly identical regional political strategy with the Islamic militant group that won last month's Palestinian parliament elections. Both have called for the destruction of Israel and neither recognizes the Jewish state.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday asked Hamas to form a government. The group has steadfastly refused Western demands to renounce violence, accept Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The United States and European Union, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization, have said they will halt hundreds of millions of dollars in aid grants to the Palestinian Authority after a Hamas government takes office unless the group changes its attitude toward Israel and violence.

Hamas suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis. But the group has respected an informal cease-fire since early last year.

"The United States proved that it would not support democracy after it cut its aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas won the elections. We will certainly help the Palestinians," Larijani said, according to an Iran radio report.

Israel and the United States have long accused Iran of giving financial and material support to Hamas. But Iran has always replied it gives only moral backing.

"The incoming Palestinian leadership has to decide if it wants to be part of the legitimate international community or if it wants, through its own actions, to align itself with international pariahs," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

Asked whether Israel would try to block the Iranian funding, Regev replied it would be going to finance a "terrorist" leadership.

"We would be entitled to use all legal means to prevent that money from reaching its destination," he said.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Wednesday he could not verify the reports that Iran had offered to fund Hamas.

"Iran's support of terror and Iran's support of violence as an acceptable way to achieve political aspirations is contrary to the policy and the statements of President Abbas," he said, adding "it's frankly contrary to the actions of the civilized world."

Israel condemns Iran for its support of militant groups and accuses Tehran of seeking to produce nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.

Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be "wiped off" the map and called the Nazi Holocaust of 6 million Jews a myth.

Hamas leaders have acknowledged receiving small amounts of Iranian aid, but the group has said it did not want to rely solely on Iranian funds.

In Kuwait, the Salafi Movement — a Sunni extremist group — called on Muslims and Arabs to offer financial support to Hamas, the "legitimate and elected representative" of the Palestinian people. The movement said Hamas was the target of "political blackmail" to force it to recognize Israel.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Monday for Muslim nations to aid a Hamas-led government.

Ahmadinejad also has indicated Hamas should not fear the West's threat to cut off funds. "Since the divine treasures are infinite, you should not be concerned about economic issues," the official news agency quoted him as saying.