Iran Guards Commander Says Ready to Back Palestinian Forces

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani says his nation is ready to support Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip, days after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Soleimani, commander of the Al Quds force, made the offer in a phone call late Monday with leaders of groups in Gaza, according to the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ website, Sepah News, which didn’t give details of the assistance proffered. Other forces in the region are ready to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Soleimani also told the Gaza faction leaders, without identifying them. The mosque is Islam’s third-holiest shrine and a frequent flashpoint for tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians claim Jerusalem’s eastern sector, where the mosque stands, as the capital of a future state, and they oppose the U.S. move. Hamas has called for another uprising against Israel in response, though so far protests have been limited.

Soleimani spoke a day after the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, called on all “resistance” groups in the region to come up with a unified strategy to take back Jerusalem. Iran’s Quds force operates beyond the country’s borders and has fought Islamic State in Iraq and backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran also supports proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas that have warred with Israel.

In announcing his decision, Trump said the move would promote Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Robert Gates, a U.S. defense secretary in the administrations of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, disagreed.

Trump’s decision is “counter-productive to the administration’s own objectives,” Gates told Bloomberg News.

“There was a sense this administration really thought it had a shot at making some real progress,” he said in an interview in Dubai. This announcement “makes it much tougher to try and get any kind of political progress” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Gates concurred with European and Arab leaders who say it is liable to fuel more conflict in the Middle East. The international community doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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