Move likely to anger Israel, Palestinian Authority and Western powers who consider the Islamist movement a terrorist group.
Iran has invited a leader of the Islamist group Hamas to attend a summit of 120 developing nations, officials said on Friday, a move that could antagonize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and anger Western powers who consider Hamas a terrorist group.
Iran hopes to earn diplomatic kudos by hosting a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement from Aug. 29-31 at a time when the West is seeking to cripple its economy and isolate it diplomatically over its disputed nuclear program.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already said he will attend, defying calls from the United States and Israel to boycott the event.
The invitation to Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, highlights the rift in the Palestinian territories and will complicate matters for Abbas, whose Western-backed government sees itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
Abbas was also invited to the summit and has said he will attend. His forces lost control of Gaza in a brief 2007 war with Hamas and he has since governed only in the occupied West Bank.
Haniyeh has yet to say whether he will attend.
Iran has had strained relations with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA), in part due to the PA’s peace talks with Israel.
The PA has even accused Iran of plotting against it and of intervening in its internal affairs by inciting factions like Hamas to carry out military attacks on Israel in an attempt to sabotage the peace process.
Hamas, in contrast, is sworn to Israel’s destruction, a position which is more aligned with the view of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who as recently as last week said there is no place for Israel in the Middle East.