Mahmoud Zahar 311.
(photo credit: (Courtesy of Channel One))
Prominent Hamas member Mahmoud Zahar said Wednesday that the Gaza Strip is a stable alternative for leaders fleeing the civil turmoil in Syria, Al Jazeera reported.
Zahar said that Gaza "is an alternative destination currently available for leaders returning from living abroad in light of the upheavals taking place in a number of Arab nations, and especially in Syria," Zahar said, signaling the growing daylight between the Sunni Islamist group and their longtime allies in Damascus.
Zahar made the comments after some Hamas leaders recently announced their alignment with the Syrian opposition, despite Damascus hosting the group's political bureau in exile after Jordan expelled the group in 1999.
Damascus has been battling an increasingly militant opposition for close to a year that has unsettled the Sunni Islamist Hamas, as the group may not to be seen as siding with Syria and its Shi'ite non-Arab backer Iran against a largely Sunni Muslim opposition.
"I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform," Hamas Prime Minsiter Ismail Haniyeh said in Cairo last week.
Still, Zahar denied on Wednesday in comments to a Palestinian newspaper reports that Hamas had abandoned its Damascus bureau, Al Jazeera reported. Other Hamas leaders have said that while Hamas's presence in Damascus has seriously dwindled, the bureau formally remains.
He said the decision to return to Gaza would be on an "individual" basis, and did not mention Hamas leaders specifically for return, but "leaders" in general.
Though several Hamas leaders, including political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, have left Syria as the violent struggle there continues, other notable Palestinain leaders outside the Islamist group have joined the exodus as well. One of the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine arrived in the Gaza Strip this week after living abroad in Syria and Lebanon for years.
Zahar touted the resilience of Gaza to the type of political turmoil that has spread throughout the Middle East from Tunisia to Syria, "for many reasons related to the internal situation" in the Strip.
He did not address claims by the Palestinian Authority that Hamas has jailed Fatah activists in Gaza, nor the decision of the government in Gaza to not allow protests both in support of the Syrian government.
Zahar said that "Arab states have given their people two choices: either to renovate the house or to play out the political issues at a great cost... In their place I would be interested in an orderly house," according to Al Jazeera.
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