DUBAI (Reuters) - Palestinians should be “equipped” to defend themselves against Israel as it carries out air strikes on Gaza, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, adding that Tehran’s alliances with Palestinian Islamist groups remained strong.
Israel began air strikes on Gaza on Wednesday, with the declared goal of deterring Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.
Iran says the Israeli strikes are “organised terrorism”.
A senior Iranian lawmaker nonetheless denied on Sunday that Tehran had supplied the group with Fajr-5 rockets which Hamas said it had fired on Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial centre.
But on Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast refused to comment directly on whether Iran was supplying Hamas with the Fajr-5 rockets.
“The question of which country has produced these missiles is best discussed by military officials who have expertise in this matter,” Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
“What is important is that the people of Palestine must be equipped to defend themselves, and it is the responsibility of all countries to defend the rights of the people of Palestine.”
Mehmanparast also rejected the idea that the relationship between Hamas and Iran has deteriorated over possible differences in views over the crisis in Syria, where Tehran’s ally Bashar al-Assad is fighting an armed rebellion. The Emir of Qatar, who supports the Syrian rebels, visited Gaza last month in a landmark trip and met Hamas leaders.
Western-allied Gulf Arab states are trying to lure Hamas away from its alliance with Iran, whose nuclear energy programme has raised the prospect of a war with Israel.
“There are very good relations between Iran and Hamas,” Mehmanparast said. “We now and have always stood by the people of Palestine and support all the Palestinian fighters, especially Hamas and the Islamic groups.”
Israel’s military on Tuesday targeted about 100 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank.
Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jon Hemming