Hamas’s shifting loyalties over Syria

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is in a quandary these days; and the Syrian war, which has been raging for two years and two months, is the cause.

Before the war, Hamas’s situation was close to ideal. It enjoyed special status in “the axis of resistance,” benefiting financially, military and politically. But when the popular uprising in Syria began, calling for reforms and human rights, the Hamas leadership was forced to choose between two positions: either support the Assad regime and stay under its umbrella, or support the opposition, thereby exiting the “axis of resistance”.

Hamas’s ruling body, led by Khaled Meshaal, the Movement’s Political Bureau Chief, preferred to leave Damascus, and join the fundamentalist Sunni opposition.

It was clear that the leadership was counting on the overthrow of the Syrian regime in a matter of weeks – as happened in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. But the regime’s endurance has surprised not only Hamas but also many other Arab and Western leaders.

By joining the “Sunni axis” headed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, Hamas terminated its relationship with the Syrian-Iranian axis, which was the movement’s source of financial and military support for the past 20 years.

It has also led to the end of its strategic relationship with Hezbollah, which have formed a cover for the movement in Lebanon, as well as providing training and weapons.

The battle of Qusayr, which saw the Syrian army, with the support of Hezbollah, prevail, has forced Hamas to end its silence and diplomatic approach.

This was clearly reflected by the movement’s statement issued on Monday, in which it strongly criticised Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and participation in the Qusayr battle. The Palestinian organsiation called on its former ally to “immediately withdraw its troops from Syrian territory”.

The core point is that Hamas considers Hezbollah’s intervention a contribution to perpetuating sectarian polarisation in the region. This is a controversial point, as it will anger Shi’a Hezbollah, who will say that they have never been sectarian in their support for Sunni Hamas.

The carefully drafted statement coincided with al-Qaradawi’s meeting in Cairo, which included a group of Sunni scholars from the Arab and Muslim world.

It also coincided with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to support the “Jihad in Syria” as well as President Mohammed Morsi’s decision to cut diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime by closing its embassy in Cairo, and withdrawing the Egyptian charge d’affaires in Damascus.

It is clear that Hamas has now made a final decision to cut all ties with its old allies and join the Arab moderate axis – the one that is close to America, and any attempts to deny this re-alignment will be met with suspicion.

In the past, Hamas has always remained popular because of its participation in the “resistance axis”,  but it seems history is now forcing it away from its natural inclinations and into an awkward partnership with the “Arab moderation axis”, supported by the US.

Abdel Bari Atwan is the editor-in-chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of X News 7

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