A few hours after a security meeting between Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas issued a statement on Monday calling on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, adding that the Party of God’s role in Syria “increased sectarian polarization.”
Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Anbaa reported this weekend that a number of Hamas officials left the southern suburbs in Beirut, Hezbollah’s stronghold, after being pestered and intimidated by Hezbollah. Although their main offices haven’t been closed completely, a number of incidents prompted Hamas to take this decision. Recently, various news reports last week said that Oussama Hamdan’s son was beaten up by Hezbollah in the southern suburbs.
Ties between Hamas its allies Iran and Hezbollah have soured over the war in Syria, with the Palestinian organization voicing its opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime while Hezbollah has militarily supported Damascus. But this political split is also linked to military grounds.
A Free Syrian Army member in Qusayr – who refused to give his real name for security reasons – told NOW via email that there are hundreds of Hamas members in Syria, who help the FSA in training and fighting. Most of them are based in the Yarmouk and Palestinian Camps, and in some neighborhoods in Damascus.”
The London Times reported earlier in April that Izz Eddine Al Qassam Brigades have been training Free Syrian Army Troops in Eastern Damascus, mainly in the neighborhood of Yalda, Jaramana, and Babbila.
The FSA source also told NOW that in addition to fighting techniques and digging tunnels trainings, Hamas members and supporters also fight along the FSA, and that they were largely present in Qusayr. “Most of Hezbollah casualties in Qusayr were caused by Hamas,” he added.
“We were told that Hamas covers their expenses, arms, and compensation for their families in case they die in battle, and that they come to Syria by crossing Rafah border, then to Turkey, where they sneak inside Syria.”
The source, who calls himself Salim, also told us that Hamas fighters have been coming to Syria for more than a year now. “Their leader Mohammad Qneita, who died in December 2012, is also a military leader in Izz Eddine Al Qassam Brigades.” In fact, Hamas movement in Gaza eulogized him and their Political leader Ismail Hanieh attended his funeral. This video shows images of the eulogy and funeral.
Qneita died while fighting along the FSA in Idlib, during an attempt to take over the military airport. “Qneita has trained many of our fighters before his death, and pretended that he was one of Al-Nusra group, because back then only a few knew about Hamas’ involvement with FSA,” Salim added.
This tension is no longer news and Hamas’ involvement in Syria is no surprise. After Khaled Meshaal and other Hamas officials were forced to flee the group’s headquarters in Syria, Meshaal has since stationed himself in Qatar, making the small Gulf city-state Hamas' new headquarters. Moreover, in October 2012 Qatar pledged to give Hamas $400 million USD in support, which constitutes a critical funding stream that will supplement major subsidies from Iran.
Hamas' loyalty is now with Qatar, and the Gulf state is clearly supporting and funding Syrian rebels, particularly Islamist ones. It is only normal that Hamas, being the best trained military faction in the region besides Hezbollah, will be asked to join the rebels in Syria.
Hamas’ shift has enraged the Syrian regime and Meshaal’s move to Qatar made the Palestinian movement one of Assad’s worst enemies. Assad’s fighters disseminated a video last week showing bodies of three fighters allegedly belonging Hamas. “After they received the backing of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad, here they are betraying us and sending terrorists from Lebanon to fight against the Syrian Arab Army,” a man is heard saying in the video.
But this is not the end of it. The tension, having moved to Lebanon, could escalate in and around the Palestinian camps, especially those where Hamas has control. Heavy clashes erupted in the southern city of Sidon earlier today between supporters of Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir and Hezbollah loyalists, after an attack on a vehicle belonging to Assir’s brother. Various reports confirmed that a number of Islamist groups in Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp are getting ready to support Assir in his fight against Hezbollah.
Ain el-Hilweh comprises Hamas operatives and the obviously sectarian clashes in Saida could also open the Palestinian camp to the Assir-Hezbollah fight. Hezbollah has positioned itself, through a calculated sectarian approach, as the enemy of all Sunni Islamists who are taking over most of the region, including Hamas. This will not spare Lebanon.
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr