Palestinian factions argue over role of Soleimani

GAZA CITY: Palestinian factions backed by Iran sparked controversy yesterday as they not only issued statements of condolence for the death of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week, but even opened a funeral tent for him in the Gaza Strip.

Soleimani, according to Palestinian sources, had direct contact with Palestinian factions in Gaza and provided them with Iranian aid and expertise, which has raised questions about the impact his death will have on Palestinian forces.

But his role in the deaths of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq made him a controversial figure for several inside Palestinian organizations, even those that accepted Iranian assistance.

Hossam Al-Dajni, a professor of political science at the Ummah University affiliated with Hamas in Gaza, said that statements made by Hamas and other forces in Gaza regarding expressing dismay at Soleimani’s demise were unacceptable to some members, and that internal debates about Soleimani had intensified following his death.

“There is a peculiarity to the Palestinian situation, given the presence of the Israeli occupation, and the need for the resistance forces to support and develop their capabilities in facing the occupation,” Al-Dajani told Arab News.

Hamas’ opposition to the Iranian-backed Houthi militia group in Yemen, as well as its position on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, often put it at odds with authorities in Tehran. That said, the Iranian regime still viewed groups in Gaza as important proxies to oppose their mutual enemy, Israel.

Al-Dajani said that Soleimani’s personal relations with the leaders of Palestinian resistance groups had been positive, but that Iranian support was a state policy, not an individual position, and that even with his death, it was likely to continue.

Hassan Abdou, a political analyst close to the group Islamic Jihad, agreed that Iranian support for Palestinian factions was an official strategy, saying: “Soleimani was implementing state policy, and he had great experiences and strong relations with the resistance forces. Soleimani’s successor, through the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, would maintain operational supply lines for the resistance forces in Gaza.”

Under Soleimani, Iranian support for the Palestinian factions expanded to include left-wing forces as well as Islamic forces, Abdou said. “Soleimani was an international leader who was not ruled by a doctrine or religion in his confrontation of American imperialism or the Israeli occupation,” he added.

Islamic Jihad is known to be the most stable Palestinian faction in its historical relationship with Iran, a relationship not affected by the developments in the region in the past few years.

Abdou believes the group relies on what he described as “constructive ambiguity” regarding its position on actual engagement with Iran in the event of a broad military confrontation with the US.

Regarding the controversy over the opening of a funeral tent for the Iranian general in Gaza, Abdou said those who rejected it were “extremists” with a “sectarian stance,” who hated Soleimani for his role in the defeat of Daesh and other extremists in Iraq and Syria.

Military analyst Wasif Erekat claimed the killing of Soleimani would have “a direct impact” on Palestinian forces, but one that would not last long.

He told Arab News that the assassination was: “A great loss for the Palestinian factions because of his experience, capabilities and personal characteristics.

“Iran’s support for Palestine and the resistance factions aims to legitimize its own regional presence. The resistance factions in Gaza are not for Iran, but (served as) functional groups in Iran’s major regional strategy.

“What we are seeing now (the internal disagreement) exceeds all of this, and its price may be high in terms of people’s solidarity and standing with us.”

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