Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal secures Iranian pledge of fund for his group

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal extracted from Iran Tuesday a pledge to fund his radical Palestinian movement to compensate for the West's financial blockade of the Palestinian government.

Mashaal, who arrived in Iran early Tuesday, told a press conference with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that Iran had been giving financial and political support to the Palestinians, whose government has been cut off from Western aid since Hamas took office in March last year.

"We still look forward to get support (from Iran) to break the political and economic sanctions," Mashaal said.

Mottaki told reporters that Iran would continue to provide money to Hamas, but he did not give any figures.

Iran is known to have pledged US$120 million to Hamas since it took office following its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections. But it is unclear how much money the Palestinian Authority has received. There was no word Tuesday on how much more would be donated.

The major aid donors to the Palestinian Authority the United States, the European Union and Canada cut off aid because Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel and the previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last month, Mashaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a Saudi-brokered agreement in Mecca under which they would form a coalition government and Hamas promised to "respect" the previous agreements.

The United States and others are waiting for the coalition to be formed before declaring whether the Mecca agreement warrants a resumption of aid.

At Tuesday's press conference, Mashaal was asked if Hamas had now recognized Israel.

The Hamas leader did not answer directly, but said: "The Palestinian government insists on June 4, 1967 borders (for a Palestinian state), full Palestinian sovereignty with Jerusalem as its capital."

He was referring to the international borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which broke out on June 5 that year, in which Israeli troops captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Mottaki said his government backed the Mecca accord.

"Iran supports this initiative, and it also supports any step toward achieving greater unity among Palestinians," the foreign minister said.

Mashaal met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday and was expected to meet the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before he leaves the country.

He lives in exile in Damascus, Syria, reports AP.

Iran had close ties with Israel when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in power. However after the shah toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution, the new Iranian government broke ties with Israel and turned the former Israeli Embassy into a Palestinian embassy.

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