Hamas denies it will attack Israel in any war with Iran

Smoke trail of a rocket fired from Gaza as seen from the Israel-Gaza border (Dec 2008) The Israeli media has speculated that Hamas would fire rockets from Gaza in any war with Iran

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Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, say they will not help Iran militarily in any conflict between Israel and the Islamic Republic.

There is speculation in Israel that if it attacked Iran's nuclear facilities, it could face rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Both are long-time allies of Iran.

But Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior leader of Hamas in Gaza, denied the group would get involved and told the BBC: "We are not part of any political axis."

"If Israel attacks us we will respond. If they don't, we will not get involved in any other regional conflict," he added.

Mr Zahhar questioned Hamas's ability to offer support from the Palestinian territory to the south of Israel, even if it wanted to.

"Don't exaggerate our power. We are still suffering from the occupation, the siege and two wars in recent years," he said.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza in 2007 after Hamas seized control of the territory from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement.

Ideological differences

Another senior Hamas official in Gaza, who did not want to be named, also insisted that Hamas would stay out of any conflict between Israel and Iran.

"What could we realistically do anyway? If we were to attack Israel, the response would be much stronger," he said.

Start Quote

I don't like the Iranians and the way they try to use their influence in the Arab world”

End Quote Unnamed Hamas official

Hamas has long relied on Iran for funding. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars are transferred to Gaza every year.

However, the same Hamas official suggested they were not strongly aligned in their beliefs.

"Iran has been very generous with its money, but ideologically we have little in common," he said.

Although both Hamas and Iran are hostile towards Israel, which regards the Palestinian group as a terrorist organisation, Hamas supporters are Sunni Muslims while Iran has Shia Muslim majority.

This makes it much closer to Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist movement which operates in southern Lebanon.

"I don't like the Iranians and the way they try to use their influence in the Arab world," commented the Hamas official to whom I spoke.

Syria backlash

In recent months, the uprising in Syria has created tensions between Hamas and the Iranian leadership.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal Hamas and its political leader, Khaled Meshaal, were based in Syria until recently

While Iran continues to back the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, last month for the first time, Hamas publicly criticised the government in Damascus.

Speaking in Cairo, Hamas's Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, also commended "the brave Syrian people that are moving toward democracy and reform".

Hamas has pulled all its leadership out of Damascus, including the head of its political bureau, Khaled Meshaal.

The movement is looking for a new base.

Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey are all possibilities.

Signs of spring

"Hamas's relationship with Iran has always been one of necessity not choice," says Nasser Abdul Karim, a political economist at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

He believes the Arab Spring and the recent tremendous upheaval in the Middle East have led Hamas to rethink.

It has close links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has become a powerful political force in post-revolutionary Egypt, controlling almost half of the seats in parliament.

Mr Abdul Karim suggests that Hamas will now look to consolidate its relationships with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar.

Qatar, one of the richest countries in the Arab world, could be a main source of revenue.

The Gulf nation has recently been pushing for a reconciliation deal between Hamas and its long-time rival faction, Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and is in power in the West Bank.

Although the figures have not been confirmed, Mr Abdul Karim claims Qatar offered up to $2bn (£1.27bn) in aid to Hamas and the PA in order to try and push the deal through.

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