- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2012

TEHRAN — Iran’s leaders urged the Hamas prime minister of Gaza to continue the Islamic militant group’s resistance against Israel and promised support, state TV reported Sunday.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told HamasIsmail Haniyeh that Iran always would stand by the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel and warned him against “compromisers.” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his part said it is Iran’s “duty” to stand by the Palestinians.

The hard-line remarks come as Iran watches with concern attempts by Hamas to move closer to wealthy Persian Gulf Arab states. Widened support for Hamas in the Arab world may come with demands that the Islamist movement not embarrass its new patrons.

Israel and Iran consider each other archenemies. Israel has not ruled out a strike against Iran’s nuclear program, which it says is trying to develop weapons technology. Iran denies this, saying the program is only for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, was quoted as telling Mr. Haniyeh that people expect Palestinian resistance to continue.

“People do not expect anything except endurance from Palestine’s resistance,” Mr. Khamenei was quoted as saying. Hamas “should be watchful about influence of compromising elements … since the outbreak of sickness is gradual.”

Mr. Khamenei said late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat lost his popularity because he distanced himself from resistance. “Resistance attracts people, and it is a big resource that should be protected,” he said.

The supreme leader said Iran would always “stand by the people of Palestine and the resistance movement.”

Mr. Khamenei on Feb. 3 affirmed that Iran had provided support to Hamas - a well-known policy, but one that Iranian leaders rarely state explicitly.

Mr. Haniyeh was quoted as saying that Iran is a “strategic reserve” for the Palestinians, and that Hamas would continue a strategy consisting of the “liberation of all the Palestinian lands, the pursuit of resistance and the rejection of peace talks.”

Mr. Haniyeh also met Mr. Ahmadinejad on Sunday. The president was quoted as saying that support for Palestine is a task for all Muslims. “As its duty, the Iranian nation has stood next to the oppressed nation of Palestine.”

The remarks come as Hamas‘ top leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, leads what appears to have been a political shift.

He has pursued reconciliation with his Western-backed rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a longtime proponent of negotiations with Israel, and has argued that nonviolent protests are an important tool in resisting Israeli occupation.

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