'Hamas denies it is quitting Syria HQ'

Hamas spokesman says group's officials leaving Syria over issues related to Palestinian reconciliation, AFP reports.

Hamas leader Mashaal makes a speech in Damascus [file]_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas leader Mashaal makes a speech in Damascus [file]_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas's spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied Saturday reports that the group had quit its headquarters in Damascus amid ongoing unrest in Syria, AFP reported.
"Hamas has not taken any decision to leave Syria, and we are still there," Barhoum told AFP, adding that the visible movement of Hamas officials out of Syria is related to inter-Palestinian political reconciliation.
A Palestinian official in Gaza City told AFP that Hamas was not going to close its Damascus bureau, but said that "for reasons of security some leaders may feel obliged at times to leave the country."
Civil unrest in Syria has led to thousands of deaths and violent clashes in cities throughout the country, including in-and-around Damascus.
Back-and-forth reports have circulated for months whether or not Hamas has decided to close the bureau in Damascus, which was established after Jordan banned the group and exiled its leaders in 1999.
On Friday, diplomatic and intelligence sources said that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has effectively abandoned his headquarters in the Syrian capital.
"Mashaal is not staying in Syria as he used to do. He is almost out all the time," said a diplomat in the region who spoke on condition on anonymity.
A regional intelligence source, who also did not wish to be identified, said: "He's not going back to Syria. That's the decision he's made. There's still a Hamas presence there, but it's insignificant."
Analysts say Mashaal was embarrassed by Assad's violent crackdown, with more than 5,000 people reported killed. Many victims of the security forces have been Sunni Muslims allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose support Mashaal relies on.
The sources said Mashaal would not publicly shut down the political headquarters of Hamas in Syria, where it has long been hosted by Assad and by his father before him.
"In the past month he may have only stayed five days in Syria and the rest he spent in Qatar, Turkey and Egypt," said the diplomat. "But he did not close the headquarters in Syria in full and there are some Hamas officials still there."
"Our belief is that Hamas will not announce a departure from Syria even if it happened," the diplomat added.
Reuters contributed to this report.