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JERUSALEM – Iran has opened an “ideological embassy” in the Palestinian territories to espouse Shia Muslim beliefs – including Islam’s waging of a final, apocalyptic battle against “evil” – and to help spread Iranian theocracy and rule throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, WND has learned.

Although Tehran has long financed Palestinian terror organizations, the opening of its office here marks the establishment of Iran’s first official agency in the Palestinian areas, senior Palestinian security officials said.

“We want the Palestinian people to be exposed to the Iranian heritage and Shia principles. [Our goal is] to reinforce the relations between the Islamic republic of Iran and the Palestinian people. We are part of the Iranian Islamic project in the Middle East,” Muhamad Gawanmeh, director of Iran’s new Shia Council in Palestine, said in an interview.

Gawanmeh is a member of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad terror group and has spent several years in Israeli prisons. He opened the council’s headquarters in Ramallah, and said there are plans to expand Iranian offices to several other major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza with official sanctioning from Tehran.

The council, which recently also opened an office in Egypt, claims to already have a membership of several thousand Palestinians.

Gawanmeh said Iran’s Shia Council will not be involved in “military operations,” but will promote Iranian theocracy to the local population and serve as a conduit for Tehran’s interests in the area.

“We want the council to be a gate for the Palestinian people to receive the help of Iran and the Shiate world. We already have large numbers of members and supporters,” Gawanmed said.

He said the council seeks to espouse Shia Muslim ideology in the Sunni-dominated Palestinian territories, including the belief in the return of the Twelfth Imam to lead an apocalyptic world battle against “evil.”

Shia Muslims believe Muhammad’s family – the 12 Imams – were the best sources of knowledge about the Quran and Islam and were the most trusted carriers and protectors of Islamic tradition. They believe in a dynasty of Islamic authorities and promote a hereditary class of spiritual leaders they believe have divine powers.

Sunni Islam in part follows the teachings of Islamic caliphs who proclaimed leadership after Mohammed’s passing but were not blood relatives of Muhammad. The caliphs interpreted important parts of Muhammad’s hadith – or tradition – that Shias reject.

Sunni Muslims make up about 85% of Muslims all over the world. The largest sect of the Shias, called The Twelvers, believe there were 12 imams after Muhammad and that the last one, Imam Mahdi, still lives, but he cannot be seen until Allah determines it is time to prepare the faithful for Judgment Day.

The Twelvers count Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among their faithful. They believe Imam Mahdi will return to lead the forces of righteousness against the forces of evil in a final, apocalyptic world battle.

Some Mideast analysts fear Ahmadinejad may be pursuing nuclear weapons in part to precipitate the final, Mahdi-led battle. In a speech in Tehran in November, Ahmadinejad reportedly said his main mission is to “pave the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam Mahdi, may Allah hasten his reappearance.” His cabinet has reportedly given $17 million to the Jamkaran mosque, site of a well at which Shia Muslims believe Mahdi disappeared over a thousand years ago.

The council’s Gawanmeh went on to credit Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s recent visit to Tehran with strengthening official Palestinian ties to the Iranian leadership and emboldening Iran to sanction the opening of its new Palestinian office.

“Now that Hamas was adopted by Iran, who announced a huge financial support to Hamas and to the Palestinian people, and now that Hezbollah is facing a Zionist-American conspiracy to disarm, we decided that this is the most suitable moment to declare the foundation of our council in Palestine and to start acting publicly,” Gawanmeh said.

Israel says Iran uses the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia as a conduit to channel funds to Palestinian terror groups, including Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for every suicide bombing since several Palestinian groups agreed to a truce with Israel last year.

Iran last week pledged financial support to Hamas to replace an expected halt of European and U.S. aid to the new Palestinian government.

Media reports said Iran would give as much as $250 million to the PA, but Hamas officials said no actual amount had been discussed.

Hamas chief Meshaal, in Tehran eleven days ago for a round of talks with Iranian officials, said Iran would have an increased role with the PA.

A senior official from the PA’s Fatah-linked intelligence branch told WND: “Iran is playing a very negative role in the PA. Aside from its meetings with Hamas leaders and its financial support, we are worried the new office in Ramallah is Iran’s attempt to infiltrate the PA territories through religious organizations that will adopt a very radical Shia Islam.”

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