Is Hamas planning to move its headquarters from Syria to another Arab country?
This is the question that many Palestinians have been asking in the past few
Several Hamas officials denied this week that their movement had
any plans to leave Syria. The denials came in response to numerous reports in
some Arab media outlets about Hamas’s intention to move its offices to another
According to these reports, President Bashar Assad is
furious with Hamas because of its refusal to support his regime against the
popular uprising that began earlier this year.
Hamas, which is one of 10
radical Palestinian groups based in Damascus, has been sitting on the fence ever
since the beginning of the anti- Assad protests in Syria. Hamas leaders have
thus far refrained from taking sides in the conflict, arguing that the
movement’s policy is to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of Arab
But this has not been Hamas’s policy toward the
anti-government uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.
There, Hamas came
out in support of the demonstrators and even urged them to topple their
Hamas was the first Palestinian group to welcome the downfall of
Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar
With Syria, however, Hamas has found itself in a delicate
situation. On the one hand, Hamas can’t afford to voice support for those who
are seeking to overthrow a regime that has been hosting and backing the movement
for more than two decades.
Hamas leaders know that they would pay a heavy
price the moment they betray Assad. They know that Assad is a ruthless tyrant
who does not forgive those who turn their backs on him and his
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal does not want to undergo the same
experience as former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who was expelled from Syria in
1983 in a humiliating manner by the president’s father, Hafez
Hafez Assad decided to expel Arafat after the latter accused the
Syrian regime of collusion with dissident PLO officers to perpetrate massacres
against Palestinians in Lebanon.
Arafat was given a letter at 8
ordering him to leave Syria before 2 p.m. He was driven to the
airport in a bulletproof limousine escorted by Syrian security vehicles. He was
permitted to take only six bodyguards with him.
On the other hand, Hamas
can’t afford to be seen supporting a murderous regime that is slaughtering
dozens of Syrian civilians on almost a daily basis. In fact, Hamas, like most
Palestinians, has never expressed public support for any of the Arab
Hamas is well-aware of the fact that the moment it sides with
an Arab dictator, it will lose a lot of points on the Palestinian and Arab
Hamas’s dilemma in dealing with the revolt against Assad is best
reflected in mixed messages coming from its leaders and representatives. While
Mashaal and most of the Hamas leaders sitting in Syria have not uttered one word
against Assad, many lowlevel activists, especially those living in the Gaza
Strip, have adopted a tough stance against the Syrian regime. Almost all of
Hamas’s publications have also endorsed the anti- Assad line.
between Assad and Hamas is said to have begun a few weeks ago when Syrian
authorities asked Mashaal to go on TV and express support for the regime in its
battle against “armed terror groups.”
Mashaal politely turned down the
request under the pretext that Hamas does not interfere in the internal affairs
of Arab countries.
Later, Hamas further enraged the Syrians when it
rejected a request to send Palestinian refugees living in Syria to the streets
to demonstrate in support of Assad.
Some Palestinians say that the crisis
with the Syrian regime hastened Mashaal’s decision to seek reconciliation with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.
beginning of the anti- Assad revolt, Mashaal has met twice with Abbas and
signaled his desire to end the rift with Fatah – much to the dismay of both
Syria and Iran.
Mashaal’s close ties with Qatar have also earned him the
wrath of the Assad regime. Syrian authorities have accused Qatar of supporting
the anti-Assad forces, especially through the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network.
Assad is also angry with Qatar for spearheading and initiating Arab League
sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Recent talk about a possible
reconciliation between Hamas and Jordan has only aggravated the crisis between
the Islamist movement and Assad. Mashaal, according to Hamas sources, is
scheduled to visit Amman shortly as part of an effort to mend fences with the
The new Jordanian government has even indicated that it was
considering restoring Mashaal’s Jordanian citizenship, which was revoked about a
Mashaal’s apparent rapprochement with Jordan is regarded as a
spit in Assad’s face, particularly in wake of King Abdullah’s recent call on the
Syrian dictator to step down.
Hamas officials said this week that Assad
would like to see Mashaal follow suit with Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and
stand with the Syrian regime. Earlier this week, Nasrallah again reiterated his
support for Assad when he declared in a speech in Beirut that “from the
beginning, we have made it clear that we stand by the [Syrian] regime, a regime
of resistance” against Israel But Nasrallah went a step further by launching a
scathing attack on the Syrian opposition, which he accused of seeking to
“The so-called Syrian National Council, formed in
Istanbul, and its leader Burhan Ghalyoun, are trying to present their
credentials to the US and Israel,” Nasrallah charged.
chief’s allegations came after Ghalyoun was quoted as saying that a Syria run by
the opposition would cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
and Hezbollah, Hamas has decided to jump off Assad’s sinking ship.
Hamas leadership is reading the writing on the wall, namely that the countdown
for the collapse of the Assad regime has begun. It’s big, clear writing that
neither Iran’s ayatollahs nor Hezbollah's Nasrallah want to read.
is also taking Ghalyoun’s remarks seriously, and that’s why many of the
movement’s leaders and top officials have asked their families in recent weeks
to leave Syria. Some of these families have moved to Cairo while others have
arrived in Amman and the Gaza Strip, a source close to Hamas
It now remains to be seen which Arab country would agree to
host Hamas when and if the movement leaves Syria. Unconfirmed reports have named
three countries as possible venues: Qatar, Egypt and Jordan.
But what is
certain for now is that in a post-Assad Syria there would be no room for Hamas
or other radical groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.