Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/02/25/14:10
Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt
By Omar Fahmy and Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO/GAZA--Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas
turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad
of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his
dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni
Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international
isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in
Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad's army,
largely led by fellow members of the president's Alawite sect, has
crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi'ite and Sunni
Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over
Hamas's future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by
its ally Assad, as well as with Iran's fellow Shi'ite allies in
Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

"I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic
people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,"
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told
thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque.

"We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs," chanted
worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world's highest
seats of learning. "No Hezbollah and no Iran.

"The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution."

Contemporary political rivalries have exacerbated tensions that date
back centuries between Sunnis - the vast majority of Arabs - and
Shi'ites, who form substantial Arab populations, notably in Lebanon
and Iraq, and who dominate in non-Arab Iran.

Hamas and Hezbollah, confronting Israel on its southwestern and
northern borders, have long had a strategic alliance against the
Jewish state, despite opposing positions on the sectarian divide. Both
have fought wars with Israel in the past six years.

But as the Sunni-Shi'ite split in the Middle East deepens, Hamas
appears to have cast its lot with the powerful, Egypt-based Sunni
Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose star has been in the
ascendant since the Arab Spring revolts last year.


"This is considered a big step in the direction of cutting ties with
Syria," said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator.
Damascus might now opt to formally expel Hamas's exile headquarters
from Syria, he told Reuters.

Banned by deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim
Brotherhood has moved to the centre of public life. It is the
ideological parent of Hamas, which was founded 25 years ago among the
Palestinians, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Shi'ite Hezbollah still supports the Assad family, from the minority
Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, which has maintained
authoritarian rule over Syria's Sunni majority for four decades but
now may have its back to the wall.

Hamas, however, has been deeply embarrassed among Palestinians by its
association with Assad, as the death toll in his crackdown on
opponents has risen into the thousands.

In Gaza, senior Hamas member Salah al-Bardaweel addressed thousands of
supporters at a rally in Khan Younis refugee camp, sending "a message
to the peoples who have not been liberated yet, those free peoples who
are still bleeding every day."

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


The divorce between Hamas and Damascus had been coming for months. The
Palestinian group had angered Assad last year when it refused a
request to hold public rallies in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria
in support of his government.

Hamas's exile political leader Khaled Meshaal and his associates
quietly quit their headquarters in Damascus and have stayed away from
Syria for months now, although Hamas tried to deny their absence had
anything to do with the revolt.

Haniyeh visited Iran earlier this month on a mission to shore up ties
with the power that has provided Hamas with money and weapons to fight
Israel. It is not clear what the outcome of his visit has been, though
the tone of the latest Hamas comments is hardly compatible with
continued warm relations with Tehran.

Rallies in favor of Syria's Sunni majority have been rare in the
coastal enclave but on Friday it seemed the Islamist rulers of the
territory had decided to break the silence.

"Nations do not get defeated. They do not retreat and they do not get
broken. We are on your side and on the side of all free peoples," said

"God is Greatest," the crowd chanted. "Victory to the people of Syria."

Hamas-Hezbollah relations have been good in the past. But Hamas did
not attack Israel when it was fighting Hezbollah in 2006 and Hezbollah
did not join in when Israel mounted a major offensive against Hamas in
Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.

Anything that divides Hamas and Hezbollah is likely to be welcomed by
Israel, which has been watching warily recent moves by Hamas to
reconcile differences with its Palestinian rivals in Fatah, the
movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

There was no immediate Israeli comment on Friday's speeches.

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