Hamas 'very disturbed' over peace talks

Mashaal says he is considering moving offices to Iran over concern about Hamas's future in Syria.

Olmert speaks 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Olmert speaks 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hamas was caught by surprise by the news of direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip said over the weekend. They said Hamas leaders in Syria were "extremely disturbed" when they heard about the Israeli-Syrian negotiations and told The Jerusalem Post that its movement's leaders in Damascus were even considering the possibility of moving to Teheran in protest of what they believe is a change in Syria's strategy. However, Hamas leaders and spokesmen have thus far been careful not to publicly criticize the Syrians over the resumption of the peace talks with Israel and are now considering their response to the dramatic announcement about the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria. "Hamas is unhappy with the latest developments on the Israeli-Syrian track," said a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip. "We believe that President Bashar Assad is making a grave mistake by not coordinating his moves with the rest of the Arab and Islamic world." The Hamas official said the movement's leaders were convinced that they and leaders of other radical Palestinian factions in Damascus would be the first to pay the price for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. "Israel and the US have long been trying to isolate Syria from the rest of the Arabs and Muslims," he said. "The first thing the Israelis and Americans will do is ask the Syrians to expel the various Palestinian organizations from Syria." Another top Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip told the Post that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who is currently visiting Teheran, was very concerned about the future of his movement in Syria. According to the official, Mashaal, who met Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, raised during his visit the possibility of moving the Hamas leadership from Damascus to Teheran in the wake of the renewed talks between Syria and Israel. "There is a high possibility that the Iranians would agree to host Mashaal and leaders of other Palestinian factions based in Damascus," he said. "This was one of the issues that Mashaal discussed with the Iranians." The Iranians are also reported to be angry with Assad. Sources close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he did not hide his discontent and shock when he learned about the negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus. The sources told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Iranian president had accused Syria of "violating the mutual commitments between Damascus and Teheran." Following his talks with Mashaal, the Iranian foreign minister also refrained from openly condemning Syria. However, the minister expressed his country's full support for the Palestinian "resistance" and the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. He was also quoted as saying that "the Golan belongs to Syria and should return to it." Mottaki added that Iran believes that under the circumstances, Israel is not in a position to be dictating preconditions to Syria. "Despite the past 60 years, during which the Zionist regime has been attempting to increase its occupied land, at the current time it has no choice but to evacuate it." Mashaal voiced skepticism regarding the prospects of achieving a breakthrough in the Israeli-Syrian talks. "We are very doubtful about the seriousness of Israel in returning the Golan to Syria," he said. "Israel is maneuvering and dragging its feet with the negotiations on all tracks. This is a well-known game. Besides, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's weakness won't enable him to take such a step." Mashaal also reiterated his threats to "break the siege" imposed on the Gaza Strip. "If the international community does not take the initiative and lift the siege, we will break it ourselves. We insist on the reopening of all the border crossings, especially the one in Rafah."