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Iran's foreign minister: Armed groups are poised with 'their finger on the trigger'

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says groups allied with Iran are prepared to strike if Israel's war against Hamas continues.

In an interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep that took place in New York City, Amir-Abdollahian said he had met with "leaders of the resistance in Lebanon and also Palestinian groups" in recent weeks and heard of plans that are "more powerful and deeper than what you've witnessed."

"If this situation continues, and women and children and civilians are still killed in Gaza and the West Bank, anything will be possible," Abdollahian said.

Iran sponsors numerous militant groups in the region. Over the years it has trained and armed proxy militia groups in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007.

The U.S. State Department says Iran has long provided weapons and support for Hamas. Ali Barakeh, a senior Hamas official based in Beirut has said that Iran provided "help and support" for its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel where Israeli authorities say the group killed more than 1,400 people and took some 220 hostages.

Iran's warning comes as Israel has intensified its airstrikes on Gaza while depriving the Palestinian enclave of food, fuel, water and electricity. Its military operations have killed more than 7,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and displaced more than a million others. Israel has acknowledged civilian casualties but contends its aim is to rid the territory of Hamas fighters.

In his interview with NPR, Amir-Abdollahian said Iran provides "only political" support for Hamas, but when asked if he would deny that Iran has armed Hamas, he said he was referring only to the current "status quo," and that Hamas has sufficient weapons of its own in the current fighting.

"They have enough missiles, rockets and drones and can easily get them from anywhere," he said. "They have whatever it takes to produce their own weapons and they have their own training and that is why they decided themselves to go ahead with this operation."

Below are some additional highlights from NPR's interview with Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. The interview was conducted through an interpreter.

On what would cause Iran to support a widening of the war

We don't really want this conflict to spread out. Actually, we're advising everybody and encouraging them to move toward the stopping of war crimes as soon as possible. But you know, the situation remains complicated. It's difficult for our region to tolerate the fact that 7,000 civilians have been killed as the result of the bombardments of the Israeli regime. This is the image that we're now seeing in the region and because of the continuation of crimes of the Israeli regime, the whole region has been turned into a powder keg.

On whether Iran is urging its allies in the region to exercise restraint

They decide for themselves. At any moment, anything can happen. But we do encourage the U.S. to abandon its absolute total support of the Israeli regime. According to information we have inside the region, both the security and political systems of Israel have totally collapsed. The Israeli citizens have no trust whatsoever in [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his security and political system. Right now, the only thing functional in Israel is their war machine that is also being run and controlled and managed by the U.S. Of course, if I were to be fair, I'd say Netanyahu also has his own role to play. Because if the attacks and the war stop, then he will fall in less than two days.

About the foreign minister's past comments about launching "pre-emptive action" via members of the "resistance front" and the subsequent barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon

Two weeks ago I visited the region and I met with some leaders of the countries of my region and with the leaders of the resistance in Lebanon and also the Palestinian groups ... What I gathered from the plans that they have – they have their finger on the trigger. You know, much more powerful and deeper than what you've witnessed. Therefore, I believe that if this situation continues and women and children and civilians are still killed in Gaza and the West Bank, anything will be possible ... Therefore they have their own calculations for their own security, and as I've said they decide for themselves.

Regarding a recent comment by a senior Hamas official based in Beirut that, "the implementation [of the attack] was all Hamas, but we do not deny Iran's help and support"

We consider Hamas a Palestinian liberation movement. They are fighting the occupiers and I said the same thing in my speech that I just delivered to the U.N. General Assembly, that they're acting according to international laws. Iran has never approved the killing of civilians, but we do have our political support for the liberation movement so that the occupied territories will be freed. Therefore, our support is only political. Today they have enough missiles, rockets and drones and they can easily get them from anywhere ... Now, currently, they have whatever it takes to produce their own weapons and they have their own training and that is why they decided themselves to go ahead with this operation.

About the hostages Hamas is holding in Gaza

Some days ago, I had a meeting with [the head of the political wing of Hamas], Mr. Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, Qatar. He said that they stand ready to combat the army of Israel for a long period of time, militarily. He said that they can come to an agreement with Israel to keep the civilians away from conflict. It will be like this: We hit their military, they hit our military. It will be just between the military people, leave the civilians out of it and we've been ready to do it for a long time. We even held talks with the Qatari officials on how we can help the release of the non-military or the civilian prisoners. I raised the issue with Mr. Ismail Haniyeh. He said we have no motivation, no reason to keep those non-military prisoners. So, as soon as there's a ceasefire, we're going to identify them, to somehow separate the military from the non-military and release them.

On why he believes it's necessary to wait for a ceasefire to release non-military hostages

You know, [Israel is] killing large numbers of people and at the same time you expect them to release these people, giving them a free hand in killing them and at the same time tying your own hands? This is not logical ... Why are you supporting the continuation of war with this question? Why not try for a ceasefire? ... When the time comes for the release of the military prisoners then they should not forget that there are 6,000 Palestinian prisoners who are held captive by the Israelis. But the important thing now is that they're ready to release those that are not with the military.

Audio for this story was produced by Milton Guevara and edited by Arezou Rezvani. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Arezou Rezvani
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.