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Hamas leader recounts how Soleimani handed him cash-filled suitcases

A top Hamas official revealed details about one batch of Iran’s financial assistance to his group, when slain commander Qasem Soleimani handed his delegation suitcases stuffed with millions of dollars.
Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar speaks during an interview with AFP at his house in Gaza City on December 15, 2010. The Arab League meeting on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process was nothing more than "a cover for the failure" of the Palestinian Authority, Zahar said. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS (Photo credit should read MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

A senior leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement has offered an account of how in one tranche of cash aid, the Islamic Republic provided his group with $22 million back in 2006. 

In an interview with the state-funded Arabic-language news network Al-Alam, Mahmoud al-Zahar said during a visit to Tehran as Gaza’s foreign minister, he and eight other members of his delegation received the nine suitcases before departure from an airport in Tehran. “In the meeting, I raised with him our problems with salary payments and social services in Gaza,” al-Zahar said of his discussions with the former commander of Iran’s Quds Force who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad Jan. 3.

“Soleimani was quick to respond to our demand. The day after, I saw $22 million in cash inside suitcases each weighing 40 kilos. Since it was only nine of us, we couldn’t carry any [more],” al-Zahar added, praising the Iranian commander as “a man of honesty and action.”

Iran’s financial support for “resistance groups” fighting the Israeli occupation has been a fundamental tenet of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Israel and several Western countries, however, consider Tehran’s assistance to Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and a host of other militant groups in the Middle East state sponsorship of terrorism.  

The Islamic Republic claims that the policy is a popular demand from ordinary Iranians, who share religious convictions with the resistance cause. This idea, however, has been openly challenged by many Iranians, especially since the country’s 2009 post-election protests. “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon! I sacrifice my soul for the sake of Iran,” they chanted. The slogan is rooted in the argument that at a time when Iran is suffering from multiple economic crises and sanctions, its own people ought to be prioritized. The same slogan was chanted with greater vigor and deeper fury eight years later in the 2017 economic protests and most notably during the 2019 nationwide unrest against a controversial plan to hike fuel prices.    

While the revelation by the Hamas official was no surprise to many Iranians, it renewed debates on how the Islamic Republic has over the decades increasingly sacrificed its people’s welfare for ideological ambitions and regional policies. “The suitcases that Soleimani offered to Hamas were filled with income from the very oil wells above which Omran Roshani Moghaddam hung himself due to poverty and his overdue salaries,” wrote human rights activist Dariush Zand in reference to a disillusioned oil field worker whose suicide scene back in June marked a moving paradox between Iran’s natural wealth and its citizens’ misery.

“Just how many children working as garbage scavengers could have been saved with the very cash gift Soleimani gave Hamas?” asked exiled journalist Masih Alinejad, highlighting the growing malady of child laborers in Iran. “We could have bought 110,000 tablets for schoolchildren during the pandemic. One of them could have been Mohammad Mousavizdeh. He wouldn’t have to take his own life,” another user wrote.

11-year-old Mohammad and several more Iranian children have committed suicide over their inability to purchase the required digital devices to join online classes. During the coronavirus pandemic, Iranian officials have had to switch conventional school education with online learning. Yet according to official statistics, some 25% of Iranian students are worriedly lagging behind as their parents cannot afford tablets or smart phones.

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