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Hamas risks Damascus base to support Syrian opposition (TELEGRAPH UK) By Phoebe Greenwood 02/27/12) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9107218/Hamas-risks-Damascus-base-to-support-Syrian-opposition.html DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Hamas has given up its safe haven in Damascus, enjoyed by its exiled leadership for more than a decade, to throw its weight behind the Syrian opposition.

Ismail Haniya, the group´s leader in Gaza, announced to a rally of thousands his support for Syrian protesters seeking to overthrow his long-term supporter Bashar al-Assad – a move that will undoubtedly draw stern rebuke from staunch Syrian ally and Hamas patron Iran.

During Friday prayers at Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, Mr Haniya said, "I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform." His declamation was answered with calls of "No Hizbollah and no Iran" and "the Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution" from the crowd.

In the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas member Salah al-Bardaweel told thousands of Palestinian worshippers, "No political considerations will make us turn a blind eye to what is happening on the soil of Syria."

Even as number of civilian protesters killed by Syrian government troops soars into the thousands, Hamas has so far attempted to remain neutral on the Syria issue pulled between a Palestinian population outraged at the brutality of the regime and political loyalty owed to an historically critical ally. When Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was stripped of his Jordanian citizenship in 1999, Syria was the only Arab state to offer him refuge.

Palestinian analysts interpret Mr Haniya´s announcement on Friday as evidence that Hamas is convinced Assad will fall. Choosing to make this announcement in Cairo is a strong indication of that Hamas is willing to sever its old allegiances and suffer the inevitable cut in funding from Tehran in order to tie itself to the Arab world´s rising power – the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

"Aside from the political consequences, Hamas has been afraid to side with the Syrian people in case the regime took out [its displeasure] on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria. But Haniya has reasoned that the regime cannot afford now to open a new front against the Palestinians," said Dr Samir Awwad, an expert in Palestinian politics based in the West Bank, adding, "Hamas knows that Assad has lost the battle already."

While Hamas has denied the closure of its Damascus headquarts, Mr Meshaal and his aids have been absent from the Syrian capital for several months. Following Friday´s announcement, it seems unlikely they will return.

Dr Awwad predicts Syria will stop short of expelling the Palestinian group, only because it cannot afford to lose one of its very few allies left in the region. Even if this proves to be the case, Mr Meshaal is placed awkwardly.

Under a deal proposed by the Qataris, a reconciled Palestinian government, inclusive of both Fatah´s Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Mr Meshaal, would be welcomed into formal Arab diplomacy allowing the Hamas leadership to base itself between Cairo, Amman and Dohar.

But many within the Hamas executive in Gaza – including key figures such as Mr Haniya and the group´s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar – have taken issue with the terms of this reconciliation, which would see Fatah-allied Mr Abbas act as prime minister of a transitional united government.

Until this internal rift within Hamas is resolved and the stalled reconciliation proceeds – or the political situation in Syria changes dramatically – Mr Meshaal and the exiled Hamas leadership will be left without a base. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 02/27/12)


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