Palestinian Hamas group back in Damascus after years of tension

AP , Wednesday 19 Oct 2022

Two senior officials from the Palestinian Hamas group visited Syria's capital on Wednesday for the first time since they were forced to leave the war-torn country a decade ago over backing armed opposition fighters.

Hamas Leaders
Hamas s chief representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan (L), Hamas arab relations chief Khalil al-Hayya (C), secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Talal Naji, arrive for a press conference during a visit to the Syrian capital Damascus on October 19, 2022. AFP


The visit appears to be a first step toward reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian government and follows a monthslong mediation by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah group, both key backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Over the years, Tehran and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have maintained their relations with Hamas despite Assad's rift with the Palestinian group.

Before the rift, Hamas had long kept a political base in Syria, receiving Damascus' support in its campaign against Israel. Hamas' powerful leadership-in-exile remained in Syria, even after the group took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

But when Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him. 

On Wednesday, Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas' political branch, and top Hamas official Osama Hamdan were among several officials representing different Palestinian factions who were received by Assad.

Al-Hayeh had regularly visited Beirut over the years, meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; their last meeting was in August.

After Wednesday's meeting, al-Hayeh said Assad was "keen on Syria's support to the Palestinian resistance'' and called his visit a "glorious day.''

"God willing, we will turn the old page and look for the future,'' al-Hayeh said, adding that Hamas is against any "Zionist or American aggression on Syria.''

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes around Syria over the past years, mainly targeting Iran-backed fighters.

Hamas' re-establishing of a Damascus base would mark its rejoining the so-called Iran-led "axis of resistance'' as Tehran works to gather allies at a time when talks with world powers over Iran's nuclear program are stalled.

The move by Hamas also comes after Turkey restored relations with Israel and after some Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, normalized relations with Hamas' archenemy Israel.

The pro-government Al-Watan daily says Damascus will be reconciling with the "resistance branch'' of Hamas and not the Muslim Brotherhood faction, an apparent reference to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal who was once based in Damascus but is now in Qatar.

*This article was edited by Ahram Online

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