Israel using Gaza as trial run for Iran strike: Hamas chief

AFP , Monday 19 Mar 2012

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal says Israel's recent attacks on Gaza were a warm up for a possible war against Iran

Israel is using the the Gaza Strip as a testing ground for a possible military strike on its arch foe Iran, the head of the Palestinian movement Hamas said on Monday.

"Israel is warming up the region for a possible war against Iran," Khaled Meshaal said in an interview with Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

Accusing Israel of pursuing "state terrorism" in Gaza, Meshaal defended the Islamist group's firing of rockets into southern Israel from the impoverished coastal strip which is run by Hamas.

"The only purpose of these rockets is to defend ourselves. Israel is attacking us and naturally our brothers in Gaza are exercising their right to self-defence," said Meshaal, who is the head of the powerful Hamas politburo.

Militants in Gaza reached a truce with Israel last week after four days of violence in which 25 Gazans died and 200 rockets were fired at the Jewish state.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently warned that he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, saying the country had a "duty to defend" itself from any existential threat.

During an unannounced visit to Turkey, Meshaal met on Friday with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although Turkey was once seen as Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world, relations have chilled under Erdogan who has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of Israel's bombing of Gaza.

The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, received an enthusiastic welcome on a visit to Turkey in January as part of his first regional tour.

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