Syria Refuses Return of Hamas to Damascus

(Damascus) Full of ups and downs, warmth and cold shoulders, alliance and animosity, comrades in-arms and disenchantment; such has been the relationship between Syria and Hamas (an Arabic abbreviation for the Movement of Islamic Resistance) in Palestine. It all started in the nineties, when Israel expelled Hamas and other militant Palestinian leaders in 1993 to Marj al Zohoor located across the border with Lebanon, following an exchange deal and a series of operations against Israeli forces in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel later on tried to kill Khaled Mash’al, then Hamas Politburo Chief. The failed assassination attempt in 1997 sparked outrage, particularly from the late King Hussein of Jordan, whose country signed a peace pact with Israel in 1994.

After recovering in Amman’s top medical complex, Mash’al told me during a live interview on Syrian television in 2002 – “the antidote for the poison sprayed into my ear was flown by helicopter from Israel at the orders of an outraged King Hussein after a fiery phone call he made to the Israeli Prime Minister” -, he then moved base to Damascus where he received a hero’s welcome and enjoyed exceptional privileges for many years until 2011.

Hamas, lost many of its top commanders and idols including its spiritual founding leader Ahmad Yassin; the elderly sheikh confined to a wheelchair, who was assassinated by an Israeli drone in 2004, triggering a spate of violent retaliation. The landmark step for Hamas took place in Lebanon, when Hezbollah took in the expelled Palestinians and started coordinating with them directly, joining their forces to fight Israeli occupation forces both in Lebanon and Palestine.

Hamas was soon able to build solid bridges with Iran, which is widely believed to remain its main supporter and supplier. Syria, in turn, hosted Hamas’ political leaders and provided them with unparalleled support.

But all that went down the drain, as the fundamental Islamic origin, nature and doctrine of Hamas soon replaced its resistance mask as war broke out in Syria in March 2011.

Mash’al and other Hamas Politburo members quickly shifted ranks and alliances. They moved and still remain in Qatar, the top financier, along with Saudi Arabia, of hard-line Islamic terror groups in Syria, Arab countries and worldwide.

Syrians were extremely disappointed and bewildered to see Khaled Mash’al, and the current Hamas Politburo Chief, Ismael Haniyya meeting with  Syrian anti-government rebels, and taking smiley-face pictures hoisting the so-called “revolution” flag with red stars, originating from the pre-independence French colonial era in Syria.

To add fuel to the fire with Damascus, dozens of Hamas militants have been killed or captured during the  fight against the Syrian army over the past 8 years, including Jihadists who came all the way from Gaza and infiltrated or were smuggled into Syria to join the war effort against a regime that had paid dearly and suffered tremendous pressure and sanctions, simply for harbouring Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Some of the most intricate and heavily fortified tunnels and bunkers used by terrorists all over Syria, and particularly near Damascus and its suburban Palestinian refugee camps, were built by Hamas, making use of their extensive tunnel-building expertise. Syrian military and intelligence officers maintain that Hamas went much further than digging tunnels for terrorists in Syria; they contend that Hamas played a major role in manufacturing and training anti-government extremists in how to make rockets, mortars, shells and explosive charges.

The real problem with movements such as Hamas lies with its Islamic fundamental roots and upbringing. While they have tried their best to market themselves as anti-Israeli resistance movements, the fact that they have been moving from one Islamic “lap” to another, striking new alliances with Qatar and Erdogan, the two major saboteurs of Syria, as well as many other Arab nations, shows clearly that the affiliation of Hamas has never been to Pan-Arab nationalism or secularism, with the issues between Palestine and Jerusalem serving as their compass and central cause. Hamas seems to have irretrievably lost its best ally along with its fragile credibility.

After the Syrian army turned the tide of war, albeit with the help of allies such as Russia and Iran, liberating over 75% of Syrian territory, Hamas has been trying to mend fences with Damascus. But despite a series of sugar-coated statements by Hamas leader Ismael Haniyya, and some harsh words against “saboteurs”, and blunt regrets for Hamas’s unfaithfulness towards Syria, the majority of Syrians have expressed an outright rejection to any return of Hamas to Syria. Although Syrian officials have not issued any statements or comments following unconfirmed mediation efforts by Tehran, the Syrian leadership seems adamant not to repeat the same mistake twice.

“A believer is not bitten twice from the same snake hole”, goes an old Arabic saying. Well, Syrians seem almost unanimously keen to put this proverbial phrase into good practice.