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PV Vivekanand: Hamas edges towards parent group
February 28, 2012
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The Palestinian group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has effectively abandoned Syria by offering its support to the nearly one-year anti-regime uprising there. By extension, it also means that Hamas has also broken away from Iran, a development that would be widely welcomed in the Arab World.

The Hamas decision need not be Syria-specific as much as it has to do with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as the dominant group in post-revolt Egypt and the Sunni-Shiite differences that have burst forth as a result of Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.

In effect, the Syrian regime has lost one of its few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab World with the Hamas move to rally behind those waging the rebellion there. But then it should have been expected at some point because it was the natural course of events.

After all, the Syrian rebellion pits the minority Shiite Alawite sect against the majority Sunnis. The shift in position – announced by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip, after largely maintaining silence on the Syrian crisis – should be seen against the backdrop of several elements.

The key is the Hamas’s relationship with the Egyptian Brotherhood. Hamas considers itself as the Palestinian equivalent of the Brotherhood and this should explain the newfound strength of the group based on the influence that the parent organisation has gained in post-revolt Egypt.

The Hamas’ leadership-in-exile, at least technically, continues to be based in Syria. Some of them are known to have left Syria, but others are still in the country. The Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad, which is seeking to crush a mostly Sunni-led uprising, was until now a strong supporter of Hamas against that of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the dominant Fatah, which are both headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas leaders, who say they believe in democracy and freedom, should have been embarrassed by their inability so far to denounce the Syrian crackdown that have killed more than 7,000 people so far. And they must have been relieved that they are no longer seen associated with the Syrian rulers.

Iran, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, is also a backer of Hamas, and is believed to have been a consistent provider of financial aid to the Palestinian group in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip. Haniyeh recently visited Iran in what was seen as a bid to secure more assistance. However, despite rhetoric in public meetings, it is unclear what transpired during the visit. 

However, by endorsing the anti-regime rebellion in Syria, Hamas is most likely to have antagonised the Iranian leadership.

Haniyeh and like-minded Gaza-based Hamas leaders appear to have fallen out with leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal, who has turned towards a negotiated settlement with Israel.

The Hamas leaders in Gaza themselves are split against and in favour of Meshaal. It is unclear whether these apparent differences had anything to do with the public declaration of the Hamas backing for the revolt in Syria.

Hamas leaders in general have aligned themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has emerged as the dominant group in post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is one of the strongest opponents of the Damascus regime, also has strong links with its Egyptian counterpart.

The recall of the Egyptian ambassador from Damascus last week was seen to have come at the insistence of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which seems to have worked out a modus vivendi with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the post-Mubarak rulers of the country.

The Hamas endorsement of the Syrian revolt also brings to question the group’s relations with Lebanon’s Hizbollah, a Shiite group closely aligned with the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Hamas and Hizbollah long had a strategic anti-Israel alliance despite the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide.

The slogan raised by worshippers at Al Azhar Mosque of Cairo on Friday was highly telling.

“No Hizbollah and no Iran,” they chanted. “The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.”

In the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas member Salah Al Bardaweel told thousands of supporters at a rally in Khan Younis refugee camp:

“The hearts of the Palestinian people bleed with every drop of bloodshed in Syria. No political considerations will make us turn a blind eye to what is happening on the soil of Syria.”

Definitely, Hamas has taken an irreversible step to cut its relations with the Syrian regime. It remains to be seen how the snap reflects on the Assad government’s treatment of Palestinian groups based in Syria and of the large Palestinian community of refugees living there.

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