The honeymoon between Hamas and the Syrian regime is now officially
Since the eruption of the uprising against Bashar Assad’s regime
nearly a year ago, Hamas had refrained from taking sides. Its declared policy
was that the movement did not interfere in the internal affairs of Arab
But for Hamas, Syria is not just another Arab country. It is
the only country that agreed to host Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and some of his
top aides after they were expelled from Jordan and stripped of their Jordanian
citizenship more than a decade ago.
Syria’s decision to allow Hamas to
set up a base in Damascus was mainly designed to undermine the PLO. It was not
out of love for the Islamist movement or the Palestinians.
to undermine the PLO go as far back as the early 1980s, when Assad’s father,
Hafez Assad, supported and later hosted senior Fatah officers who led a revolt
against Yasser Arafat in southern Lebanon. Since then, at least 10 other radical
Palestinian groups have been given shelter in Syria, where they formed a
“rejectionist front” opposed to Arafat and the PLO.
The Arab Spring has
put Palestinian groups, including Hamas, in a delicate
Palestinians have enthusiastically supported demands for
regime change and reforms in the Arab world, and Hamas and the other
Damascus-based groups could not afford to be seen as supporting an Arab dictator
who was massacring his people.
The first sign of tension between Hamas
and Assad surfaced a few months ago when Syrian authorities demanded that
Mashaal follow Hezbollah and publicly declare his backing for the Assad
Mashaal’s refusal made him persona non grata in Syria and forced
him to start searching for a new home. In recent weeks, he and most of the top
Damascus-based Hamas leaders and their families have moved to Egypt, Jordan,
Qatar and the Gaza Strip.
Until recently, Hamas had been careful not to
come out against Assad in public as long as its leaders and offices were still
in Damascus. It did not want to end up like Hezbollah, which has lost points
among the Arab and Muslim masses for siding with Assad in the bloody war against
But now that Hamas has left Syria, its leaders are finally
able to voice their true feelings. Last Friday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail
Haniyeh chose Cairo as the venue for expressing his movement’s support for the
Syrian people’s efforts to get rid of the regime.
Haniyeh said that Hamas
“lauds the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” This one
sentence was enough to signal the end of a long honeymoon between Assad’s regime