GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The leader of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip said Thursday that he affirmed his group's warm ties with Iran during a late-night telephone conversation with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the two men exchanged greetings for the current Ramadan holiday, and he congratulated Ahmadinejad over his recent re-election. The June 12 vote was widely seen as fraudulent and sparked weeks of protests in Tehran.
In a statement, Haniyeh said he and the Iranian leader discussed Israeli "conspiracies" for cementing control of Jerusalem, and that Ahmadinejad confirmed his support for the Palestinians in Gaza.
"The two leaders confirmed the depth of the relationship between Palestinians and Iran, between both its government and its people, and the prime minister expressed during the telephone call his hope of a stable Iran, united in its foreign challenges," the statement said.
Haniyeh's spokesman, Taher Nunu, said the 10-minute conversation took place at midnight Wednesday. It was unclear why Hamas waited nearly three months to congratulate Ahmadinejad, though Nunu said it was the first time the leaders have spoken since the election.
Israel considers Iran to be its most serious threat, accusing Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons and providing money and arms to Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups in the region. Israel has cited Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction and his Holocaust denial as further evidence of hostile intentions.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he wasn't shocked by the announcement from Haniyeh's office.
"These two leaders share an extremist, violent agenda. Both Hamas and Iran deny Israel's right to exist and both deny the Holocaust. That the extremist regime in Iran and the Hamas movement have a close alliance should not surprise anyone," he said.
Israel has maintained a tight embargo on Gaza since Hamas militants seized control of the area two years ago by routing forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel, along with the West, has branded Hamas a terrorist group.
In January, Israel completed a fierce three-week military offensive against Hamas militants. The offensive, meant to end years of rocket attacks across Israel's southern border, killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and caused widespread destruction throughout the densely populated coastal strip.
Since then, Israel and Hamas have been observing an informal cease-fire, but there have been growing signs that the lull is coming apart.
Last week, Israeli warplanes attacked a smuggling tunnel that the military said was being used to sneak weapons into Gaza, killing three people. On Thursday, Hamas claimed responsibility for a mortar attack along the border. The Israeli army said the mortar shells landed in Gaza.