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Ultra-orthodox Jews visit Hamas

Anti-zionist ultra-orthodox Jews in front of a picture of Dome of the Rock mosque, during Gaza visit
The Neturei Karta believe Israel can only be established by the Messiah

Four members of a group of ultra-orthodox Jews opposed to the existence of Israel have visited Hamas in Gaza.

The men, clad in the traditional ultra-orthodox garb of black hats and coats and with long side-curls in their hair, met Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.

The Neturei Karta believe that a Jewish state can only be established by the Messiah and thus denounce Israel as heretic and embrace its enemies.

Mr Haniya welcomed them, saying Hamas rejects Zionist ideology, not Jews.

"We feel your suffering, we cry your cry," the Associated Press quoted Rabbi Yisroel Weiss as saying.

"It is your land, it is occupied, illegitimately and unjustly by people who stole it, kidnapped the name of Judaism and our identity."

The representatives entered Gaza, which is under a strict Israeli embargo, with a convoy of activists who travelled through Egypt.

'Heroes'

Neturei Karta, Aramaic for "Guardians of the City" was founded some 70 years ago in Jerusalem.

Estimates of the group's size range from a few hundred to a few thousand - some in Israel, others in the UK and US.

Members have praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Israel should be erased from the pages of history - sometimes translated as "wiped off the map".

They have also attended a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran and held a prayer vigil for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as he lay on his death bed.

Mr Haniya described the men as "heroes", according to Palestinian media reports.

"Our problem is with the occupation, that stems from the Zionist ideology and its desire to disperse all the Palestinians," he said.

"Those religious figures that express their objection to the siege, the aggression and the crimes - we can't help but respect them and for their beliefs and their culture."

Israel and most Western countries regard Hamas as a terrorist group and refuse to deal directly with it.

The movement is sworn to the destruction of Israel in its charter and backs attacks on Israeli civilians, although has offered a long-term ceasefire in exchange for a Palestinian state on the full territory of the West Bank and Gaza.



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