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Earth-shattering news from Gaza

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Literally Earth-shattering, according to Iranian state media outlet Press TV:

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says the powerful feelings of the regional nations towards Gaza have been instrumental in the eruption of the region's volcano.

There is, of course, a chance that he was speaking figuratively, although this would not be the first time an Iranian cleric linked a natural disaster with global politics. There was, for instance, those earthquakes two years ago caused by promiscuous women, or the time that European countries stole Iran's rain, leading to a widespread drought. The more sinister part of Khamenei's statement, which emerged from a recent meeting with Ismail Haniyeh -- Hamas' leader in Gaza -- concerned Iranian support to Hamas:

The Leader also warned against the infiltration of the Islamic resistance by pro-reconciliation elements.

... Haniyeh, for his part, praised Iranian support for Palestine and said Hamas' three main strategies are the liberation of all Palestinian lands, resistance and rejecting reconciliation talks and emphasis on the Islamic nature of the Palestine issue. 

The meeting yesterday was highly symbolic given the context in which it occurred. Over past weeks, Hamas' political bureau has made two significant steps that have led some in the West to speak of the movement's "moderation": the formerly Damascus-based bureau has evacuated from Syria, having made the decision to break-off its relationship to Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad; and the bureau's leader, Khaled Meshal, committed to a unity agreement with rival Palestinian faction Fatah, involving numerous concessions to the Palestinian Authority. As a result, there have been increasing signs of division between the movement's Gaza-based leadership and the external leadership.

Haniyeh's meeting with Khamenei cements the growing dissent emanating from his Gazan government and serves as a bold challenge to Meshal, who has been touring the Middle East looking for allies in the new Sunni Islamist regimes and has been avoiding Hamas' traditional Shiite patrons in Iran. As an unnamed Hamas official said to Jerusalem Post journalist Khaled Abu Toameh:

Mashaal left Syria because he refused to come out in support of Assad, who is butchering dozens of his people very day ... But now here is Haniyeh visiting Iran, which is helping Assad and supplying him with weapons and security experts to suppress the popular uprising in his country. The timing of the visit is very bad and could harm Hamas's interests in the region.

More than simply dividing Hamas, the growing clash between the two branches of leadership appears to have once again killed off the latest unity agreement. Given the track record over the past year, this should hardly come as a surprise (for examples of where it has been re-announced and then fallen apart, see see herehere, here, here and here).

The power struggle will be interesting to watch, but it does not seem likely that the external leadership would be able to overpower Hamas' base in Gaza, meaning that for all the fanfare of recent months, no meaningful progress has been made regarding the Palestinians since Hamas took Gaza in 2007.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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