Hamas risks Damascus base to support Syrian opposition (TELEGRAPH UK) By Phoebe Greenwood 02/27/12)
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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
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
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
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
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