Hamas Reassesses Role in Syria

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Hamas is rethinking its role in Syria around the needs and interests of the Palestinians there, regardless of the regime in power, writes Ali Badwan.

At the end of the day, the Hamas movement is merely the Palestinian title for the Muslim Brotherhood. It is widely known that the Muslim Brotherhood has globally identified itself with the Syrian crisis. It showed support for the movement going on in the street based on its critical position and its generally opposing stance towards the Syrian regime. Add to this a complex legacy of disputes that had emerged in Syria between the local Brotherhood group and the regime, a crisis that climaxed with the final separation between the Syrian regime and the local Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1979.

This difficult equation reflected on Hamas. In fact, this led to the collapse of all the efforts that had been made by Hamas Political Bureau chief Khaled Meshaal even before the outbreak of the Syrian crisis to help heal the "old and obsolete" rift, and bridge the gap between Damascus and the Muslim Brotherhood movement in general, especially the Syrian Brotherhood movement and its leaders residing abroad. Strenuous efforts were made in this regard, and these could have yielded positive results in the next stage, had it not been for some problems and for the occurrence of a series of transformations that led to the internal crisis in the country, as information from different sources has indicated.

In this context, the departure of most of Hamas’ leaders from Syria since the beginning of the crisis, especially members of the Syrian political bureau, occurred for a number of reasons, including some related to the political and ideological public space of the Hamas movement. Some reasons are significantly related to the widening gap in Syria and the fact that the crisis has entered into the unknown amid mounting violence and lawlessness.

However, Hamas is very aware of the importance of Syria for the movement, regardless of the regime in Syria. Thus, it is probably eager to spread out over the Syrian territory and among the Palestinian masses there, whose number amounts to around 700,000 Palestinian citizens, including 511,000 refugees from 1948 (Syria's Palestinians). These make up one bloc alongside the Palestinians of Lebanon, who amount to about 420,000.

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The evidence of the equation governing Hamas' perception of its relations with Damascus along with its position, tactics and pragmatic spirit is now embodied in the following:

1. The movement's keenness to avoid making unstudied, urgent or unnecessary statements regarding the Syrian crisis, while being careful about the choice of words used in any of the statements made by the first-ranking leaders of the movement. This is especially true for members of the Political Bureau, despite the final closure of three offices (the offices of Khaled Meshaal, Mousa Abu Marzouk and Ezzat Rishq). Hamas is not an amorphous entity of a state. In the end, it is an essential part of the national liberation movement of the Palestinian people, which requires it to take highly flexible and pragmatic positions.

2. The continued presence of a considerable number of Hamas cadres in Syria, especially those who are called "Syria's Palestinians" and other supporters of the movement.

3. The ongoing daily, high level-contacts between the leadership of the Hamas movement represented by its political bureau and the rest of the factions, including National Alliance Forces, which includes Hamas, particularly contacts between Talal Naji — Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command — and the leadership of the Hamas Movement, with Meshaal in the forefront. Naji is one the top officials in Damascus who is able to act, influence and control Palestinian-Syrian relations in general.

4. The presence of a number of bureaus that belong to Hamas that were not closed, including the offices of the people's action in the Palestinian camps and areas in Syria, where the pace of action has decreased. This is just like the national activities of the Palestinian factions, which are only working to assist the people during the crisis that the country is experiencing.

5. The very remarkable and noticeable role that the Hamas movement’s members and staff are taking in social relief committees, particularly in the Yarmouk Camp. These committees took it upon themselves to provide assistance to Syrians and Palestinians alike. Displaced [Syrian] citizens have taken refuge in camps that neighbor areas that has been subjected to violence. The Yarmouk camp is hosting about 25,000 internally displaced people in UNRWA schools, Hamas’ headquarters, and in public places called guest houses. The Yarmouk camp is also hosting 100,000 displaced persons in private homes, and approximately 300,000 people are staying with relative [in the camps], where they share meals. The efforts of local community groups and Palestinian factions are seemingly strenuous, chief among these are the efforts of the relief committees, which are managed by activists from Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Palestinian forces.

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