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Iran's Hamas largesse gets mixed reaction at home

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TEHRAN, Apr 17 (Reuters) Iran may win Arab friends by pledging million to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, but at home the Islamic Republic's largesse received a mixed response today.

''I wish they had thought of the likes of me before they went lavishing Iranian money on others,'' said Farideh, as she sought donations in a south Tehran street to buy her dead son a gravestone.

''Do the Palestinians look more needy than I do?'' said the 65-year-old, who like others asked for her full name not be used when criticising the government on a sensitive political issue.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking at a conference on the Palestinian cause in Tehran, said yesterday his government was giving 50 million dollars to the Palestinian Authority to fill gaps left by Western aid cuts.

The Islamic Republic has long championed the cause of fellow Muslims in the Palestinian areas, and some analysts say the latest move is part of a diplomatic effort to win regional backing in its nuclear dispute with the West.

But the Palestinian issue does not stir the same popular emotions in non-Arab Iran as it does in nearby Arab states.

''As they say, a lantern that can light your home, should not be donated, even to the mosque,'' said 60-year-old retired government worker Kourosh, adding that the Iranian government would be better spending its money at home.

Such indifference is partly because the opinions of many Iranians are still coloured by a bloody 1980-1988 war with Iraq, which was supported by other Arab states, and a history of enmity with Arabs before that.

But also many Iranians are too busy with their own problems, as they struggle to find work or feel the pinch of inflation, even as the world's fourth largest oil exporter enjoys surging revenues amid high oil prices.

''Why didn't they (the government) announce anything (before) but kept it for the holiday?'' said 32-year-old Hassan, referring to Sunday's public day off. ''I think they knew people would have asked questions if they heard clearly about the donation.'' ''WORLD SUSPICION'' Not everyone agreed with such sentiments.

''There is no one else in the world who stands up to help the Palestinians, so we stand up for them as a Muslim nation standing up for its Muslim brothers,'' said 29-year-old Mohsen Moradi, a street hawker selling bootleg DVDs.

A Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters in Dubai that Iran was donating 0 million rather than 50 million dollars but Iranian officials had no immediate confirmation.

One analyst said the government may have played down the value for fear of an adverse reaction and said some Iranians worried the step would further isolate Iran, which the West says is seeking atomic bombs although Tehran denies this.

The West says Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb under the cover of a civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran denies.

''They (Iranians) believe that helping an extremist group like Hamas would contribute to the world's suspicion that Iran is a terrorist state,'' said the analyst, who also asked not to be identified.

Washington, which accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, and the European Union froze aid to the Hamas-led government because the group did not comply with their demand that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace agreements.

REUTERS CH RN2047

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