GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas' Sept. 15 announcement of restored relations with the Syrian government sparked controversy both within and outside the movement. While some Arab countries supported Hamas’ decision, others panned it.
By the end of 2011, Hamas had left its offices in Damascus in the wake of the Syrian uprising as relations with the Syrian government deteriorated over the movement’s support for the popular Syrian protests.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government had long supported Hamas before the revolution. Damascus considered the position of Hamas, which was headed by Khaled Meshaal at the time, a stab in the back. The government confiscated all of the movement’s properties in Syria and imprisoned a number of its members.
Even Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah were angered by Hamas’ positions in support of the Syrian uprising and Tehran suspended its funding for the movement.
Hamas' new leadership, elected in 2017, changed its policies and sought to restore relations with both Hezbollah and Iran.
Iran resumed its financial and military support for Hamas in March 2019 and worked together with Hezbollah to realign Hamas and the Syrian government.
A Hamas official involved in the rapprochement talks told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the decision to restore ties was unanimous within the political and military leadership of Hamas and its Shura Council after months of internal discussions.
The official said that the Syrian government welcomed the step, but rejected the return of the Hamas leaders who had left Damascus at the beginning of the Syrian crisis. He added that a Hamas leadership delegation is expected to visit Damascus.
The Syrian government has not commented on Hamas’ announcement.
Some Syrian newspapers criticized the movement. Syrian writer Firas Deeb wrote for Al-Watan Sept. 18 that Hamas has become a card used to score political points. He added, “Hamas is not a country for the regime to exchange ambassadors with. Hamas is just an organization that should be treated as such, period.”
The decision prompted debates on social media. Issa al-Jabari, a Hamas senior and a former minister in the Palestinian government, rejected the decision and wrote in a Sept. 15 Facebook post, “I disavow before God Almighty Hamas’ decision to restore its relationship with the criminal Syrian regime.”
Saleh al-Naami, a political analyst with ties to Hamas, criticized the decision to resume relations, tweeting Sept. 16, “Hamas’ decision to restore ties with the regime of the tyrant Bashar al-Assad is a moral sin that reflects the imbalance of strategic priorities and political confusion of the movement. Not only does this decision not meet the nation’s expectations of the movement, but it also fails to express the position of its grass roots and the vast majority of its elites.”
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst and former editor of the Hamas-linked Palestinian daily Felesteen, supports the movement’s decision. He told Al-Monitor, “Hamas is trying to exploit the current situation in Syria. Iran, whose forces are widely spread there, can help the movement to arm the West Bank.”
Relations between Hamas and the Syrian government are unlikely to return to what they were before the outbreak of the internal Syrian conflict. Despite the pressure from Iran and Hezbollah, the government does not seem willing to forgive the Hamas leadership for its positions on the Syrian crisis.