During a visit to Lebanon’s port city of Sidon, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sought radical common ground with the pro-Iran Hezbollah movement at a time of major challenges for both movements.

Haniyeh’s stop came as part of a week-long visit to Lebanon for rare talks between Palestinian factions about how to overcome their feuds and weather transformations in the region in view of recent Arab normalisation moves with Israel.

Haniyeh’s trip to Lebanon came after a visit to Turkey during which he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, triggering Israeli denunciation of the relationship.

Meeting with Islamist allies in Turkey and Lebanon, Hamas’s leader seemed in search of Turkish and Iranian guardianship in the face of international hostility.

His recourse to anti-Israeli threats in Lebanon betrayed Haniyeh’s temptation to use rhetorical escalation to gain the support of newly-sought patrons in Iran and Turkey.

After meeting earlier in the week with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and representatives of other Palestinian groups, Haniyeh arrived in the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp near Sidon on Sunday to crowds of cheering supporters. There he met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to discuss regional developments and “dangers to the Palestinian cause,” including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Hezbollah-run Al Manar TV reported.

Addressing reports of Arab normalisation moves with Israel, Haniyeh said the trend “does not represent the people, neither their conscience, nor their history nor their heritage,” according to a Hamas statement.

Earlier in the week he urged for Palestinian factions to come together to “restore our national unity, put an end to division and establish a unified Palestinian position… to confront projects directed against our people.”

For years, divergences in ideology and strategy have pit the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, against the centrist Fatah party, which leads the West-Bank based Palestinian Authority. The rift between the two Palestinian factions has complicated their governance of the occupied territories and undermined efforts to form a strong national response to Israel.

Haniyeh spoke virtually from Beirut with Palestinain Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in their first face-to-face meeting in years, triggering speculation that the two rival parties could finally put their differences behind them and forge a moderate, unified position.

However, Haniyeh reverted back to his familiar violent rhetoric when meeting with Hezbollah on Sunday, threatening to strike at Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and commercial hub located some 70 km away.

“Our missiles had a range of several kilometers (miles) from the border with Gaza,” Haniyeh said. “Today the resistance in Gaza has missiles that can hit Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv.”

Hamas, designated by the US and other Western countries as a terror group, has hit Tel Aviv with rare rocket fire in previous rounds of fighting, attacks that are considered a serious escalation by Israel and often met with a harsh response.

Hamas-linked groups also recently set Israeli farmland ablaze with incendiary balloons, which was also viewed as a severe escalation.

While pressing for Arab countries to more forcefully back Palestinian “resistance” efforts, Haniyeh has frequently antagonised his Arab neighbours by conveying enthusiastic support for Iran.

In May this year, Haniyeh specifically praised the Islamic Republic for “supporting and funding the resistance financially, militarily, and technically.” He has also expressed support for Iran’s regional agenda, saying that Palestinian militant groups will follow Tehran’s path in confronting Zionism and “American influence.”

In January, Haniyeh infuriated Egyptian and Saudi leaders by attending the funeral of slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike as he landed in Bagdhad that month. The Hamas leader lavished praise on Soleimani during the ceremony, crediting him with bringing the Palestinian resistance effort “power and steadfastness” and even referring to him as the “martyr of Jerusalem.”

Arab countries’ deep antipathy to Iran, which stands accused of destabilising the region through a network of proxy militias and terror groups, have led them to pursue warmer ties with Israel in recent years. While only the UAE has so far opted to formalise ties with the Jewish state, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Oman and Bahrain have expressed a willingness to develop closer ties, while Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace to some Israeli flights.

Source » thearabweekly