Analysis: Syria and Hamas: End of a honeymoon

Now that Hamas has left Syria, its leaders are finally able to voice their true feelings about Assad.

Pictures of Bashar, Hafez Assad 311 (photo credit: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)
Pictures of Bashar, Hafez Assad 311
(photo credit: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)
The honeymoon between Hamas and the Syrian regime is now officially over.
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 countries.
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.
Syrian efforts 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 situation.
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 regime.
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 his people.
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 and Hamas.