Hamas Chief Off to Iran, Gulf States

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh left the Gaza Strip Monday with four associates to visit Iran, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Political adviser Yussef Rizq, Housing and Public Works Minister Yussef al-Mansi and two other senior members, Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha, who were released as part of the prisoner exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, are traveling with Haniyeh.

The visit to Tehran comes at the invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Haniyeh's spokesman said.

The trip comes on the heels of the recent visit to Jordan by Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the first since the Hashemite Kingdom exiled him in 1999. Despite the invitation, Jordan does not plan to lift its ban on Hamas activities.

"It will only break the ice following years of estrangement, but Hamas will not be allowed to reopen its offices in Jordan," The Associated Press (ITALICS) quoted a senior Jordanian official.

Meshaal is looking to relocate his Damascus headquarters because of the ongoing political unrest and violence in Syria.

Neither will Meshaal be moving to Ankara, government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arnc said, according to the Turkish website, Today's Zaman (ITALICS).

"Khaled Meshaal's stay in Turkey is out of the question," the website quoted Arnc as saying.

Arnc also denied that Turkey will be providing millions of dollars in aid to Hamas, despite recent reports of a $300 million aid package to Haniyeh.

He said Turkey believes that strengthening Palestinian unity will move the peace process with Israel forward, calling Hamas leaders "significant figures" in this process.

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