GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Residents of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday plastered large billboards in key locations thanking Iran for its help during a recent eight-day battle against Israel.
The posters reflected the strong ties between Iran and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups in Gaza. Israel considers Iran to be its most dangerous enemy, citing Iran's support for the militants and its suspect nuclear program.
During the fighting, Gaza militants groups fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including Iranian-made "Fajr" missiles reaching as far as Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Israel has long accused Iran of funneling weapons into the Gaza Strip, but only recently have the militant groups openly acknowledged the origins of their arsenal.
The posters, displayed at busy intersections through Gaza, show the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, surrounded by Iranian and Palestinian flags, two hands in a handshake with the words, "Thanks and Gratitude to Iran" in Arabic, Hebrew and Farsi.
The posters were not signed, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives said their groups had nothing to do with them. But their prominent location, at busy intersections and next to a destroyed Hamas security compound, as well as the fact that they were not removed, indicated that the militants were involved in the effort. Hamas has ruled Gaza with a firm hand since overrunning the territory in 2007.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders have also publicly thanked Iran.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev accused the Hamas leadership of putting its interests above those of the people of the Gaza Strip.
"I don't think anyone should be surprised by the connection between Hamas and Iran, because they share the same extremists and hateful ideology," he said.
Israel launched the offensive in Gaza on Nov. 14 in response to months of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire. Israel launched roughly 1,500 airstrikes at Palestinian rocket launchers and storage sites. While Israel claims to have inflicted heavy damage, the militants continued to fire rockets until a cease-fire was declared on Nov. 21.
In eight days of fighting, more than 160 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, according to Palestinian medical officials. Six Israelis were killed.