Iran will back Palestinian armed groups as much as it can: leader

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a public gathering ahead of the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran February 5, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will support Palestinian armed groups as much as it can, Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Wednesday, urging Palestinians to confront a U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We believe that Palestinian armed organizations will stand and continue resistance and the Islamic Republic sees supporting Palestinian groups as its duty,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech, the text of which appeared on his website.

“So it will support them however it can and as much as it can and this support is the desire of the Islamic system and the Iranian nation.”

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a U.S. plan last month which would set up a Palestinian state with strict conditions but allow Israel to take over long-contested Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian leaders have rejected it as biased toward Israel.

Trump’s plan is to the detriment of America and Palestinians should confront the deal by forcing Israelis and Americans out through jihad, Khamenei said, according to his official website.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.

Khamenei jabbed at Arab leaders who have supported the Trump plan.

“The welcoming and clapping from a few traitorous Arab leaders who are worthless and dishonorable among their own people has no importance,” Khamenei said, according to his official website.

Separately, Khamenei called for a high turnout in parliamentary elections on Feb. 21, broadly seen as a gauge of support for authorities after all-out war with the United States almost broke out last month.

“It’s possible that someone doesn’t like me but if they like Iran they must come to the ballot box,” Khamenei said, according to his official website, noting that the elections could help solve Iran’s international problems.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at hardliners over the mass disqualification of candidates for the election.

Iran’s economy has been battered after Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to bring Iran to the negotiating table for curbs on its ballistic missile program and to cut its support for regional proxies.

America’s attempt to pressure Iran to negotiate through sanctions will not work, Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Wednesday.

“They thought we would request negotiations from America. Negotiations by their definition, not our definition,” Rouhani said. “They want us to surrender through cruel, unequal and undignified negotiations. This is impossible for the Iranian people.”

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean)

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