x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hamas tells Hizbollah to withdraw fighters from Syria

Call to withdraw forces from Syria is a further sign that the 26-month uprising against President Bashar Al Assad is straining longtime alliances in the region. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

A Syrian rebel tries to locate the positions of Assad’s forces in Aleppo. Hamas wants Hizbollah to stop fighting the rebels and to instead focus on a common enemy: Israel.
A Syrian rebel tries to locate the positions of Assad’s forces in Aleppo. Hamas wants Hizbollah to stop fighting the rebels and to instead focus on a common enemy: Israel.

RAMALLAH // Hamas yesterday called on its fellow Islamist movement Hizbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria, a further sign that the 26-month uprising against President Bashar Al Assad is straining longtime alliances in the region.

Hizbollah fighters have played a decisive role in recent Assad regime victories against rebel forces, most notably in the town of Qusayr. But Hamas wants Hizbollah to focus on fighting their common enemy: Israel.

"We call on Hizbollah to take its forces out of Syria and to keep their weapons directed against the Zionist enemy," said Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas leader based in Cairo.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government even though it has become increasingly reliant on battle-hardened fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group.

The declaration from Hamas was a sharp rebuke to Damascus as it had until last year harboured the top leaders of Hamas and allowed them to establish a headquarters in the Syrian capital.

There also was no immediate comment from Iran, which supplies millions of dollars in aid to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and is Mr Al Assad's closest ally.

The declaration may signal an end to the "axis of resistance", said Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science and Islamic studies at the American University in Beirut. He said Hamas's announcement suggested a hardening of sectarian lines between Sunnis and Shiites in the region.

United in their opposition to Israel and the United States, the axis consists of the Sunni partner Hamas, the Shiites of Iran and Hizbollah and the Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot, which dominates Mr Al Assad's regime.

"I think Hamas's decision was pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood, because Hamas is part of the Brotherhood and it can't stray from that position," Mr Moussalli said.

He said Hamas was probably pressured to make its announcement because of a decision on Saturday by Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, to sever diplomatic ties with Damascus.

"Hamas is very, very dependent on Egypt, and so you have to look at its decision in the context of Morsi's decision," Mr Moussalli said.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Morsi announced Cairo would "entirely break off relations with Syria and with the current Syrian regime". He also demanded that Hizbollah forces return to Lebanon.

On Friday, Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, denied reports in the Arab media that its forces had been training rebels inside Syria.

"There is no truth to [claims] that Hamas fighters are in Syria, although we stand on the side of the Syrian people and condemn the brutal attacks they are exposed to," Mr Haniya said during a speech at a mosque in Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt.

He said the group had not abandoned "its resistance in Palestine", adding that its mission was "loyal only to God, to this [Palestinian] people and to this issue".

 

hnaylor@thenational.ae