Tag Archives: Hama

The Hamas – Hezbollah conflict worsens

The ripple effect of the Hamas-Hezbollah fight is likely to reach Lebanon

Fighters in Sidon

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 

When Resistances Collide

Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza City in February 2013 hold ‘Free Syria’ flags and posters criticizing Syrian President Assad

While reports last week of Hamas members in Lebanon being ordered by Hezbollah security officials to leave the country have since proven false, they have nonetheless revived questions about the state of relations between the Palestinian Sunni Islamist militia-cum-party and its Lebanese Shiite Islamist counterpart.


Having both firmly sided with opposing camps in the Syrian conflict raging next door, the two nominal allies appear to be straining to preserve what they can of a relationship increasingly challenged by political and sectarian differences.


The official line was summed up by former Hezbollah MP Hassan Hoballah, who said Friday that, “What brings us together, in terms of our hostility towards the Zionist entity, is greater than a dispute over the […] situation in Syria.” This was echoed by Hamas’ spokesperson in Lebanon, Ali Baraka, in a phone call to NOW.


However, Baraka also admitted to NOW that, “Of course, relations are not like they were in previous years.” Moreover, he explicitly condemned Hezbollah’s now-publicly acknowledged military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, saying, “We are against [it], just as we are against any foreign intervention in the Syrian conflict.”


That includes intervention by Hamas, Baraka added, responding to allegations that the group is training and even fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Damascus and Aleppo. While no hard evidence has surfaced to support the accusations, they appear to be believed by some Hezbollah fighters themselves. Upon returning from the recent battle for Qusayr in Homs province, one such militant told a newspaper, “There’s a kind of irritating familiarity [in the rebels’ tactics]. Hezbollah taught Hamas all those tactics to fight the Israelis. Hamas apparently decided to transfer their experience to takfiri groups [Hezbollah parlance for the FSA].”


Whether true or not, there are certainly other indications of a deepening divorce between Hamas and its fellow members of the so-called ‘Resistance Axis’ – Hezbollah, and the Syrian and Iranian regimes. The London Telegraph reported last Friday that Iran has almost entirely ceased its financial support to Hamas – said to total some £15m ($23m USD) per month – as well as all military cooperation, in retaliation for the latter’s opposition to the Assad regime. (A subsequent article denying this was in turn denied by Hamas’ official website, a website which, significantly, describes the Syrian uprising as a “revolution” and has issued condemnations of regime “massacres” of Palestinian refugees.)


Such developments follow the broader pattern that has emerged since the Syrian uprising began. One month after Hamas’ politburo chairman Khaled Mashaal quietly left his Damascus headquarters in January 2012, the group’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah “saluted” the Syrian opposition in a Cairo speech. Mashaal has since based himself in Qatar, whose Emir Hamad al-Thani later paid a visit to Gaza in what was widely interpreted as a message that the Gulf state would henceforth be Hamas’s primary patron.


This new bond with Qatar – which is also among the most forthright sponsors of the Syrian opposition – is likely one reason why Hamas’ relations with the ‘Resistance Axis’ continue to deterioriate, according to Dr. Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center and former negotiator with Palestinian delegations in peace talks with Israel in the 1990s.


“Clearly Qatar has pledged lots of assistance [to Hamas],” Sayigh told NOW. “It’s possible that there’s been some sort of quid pro quo.”


However, Sayigh said equally significant are domestic pressures on the group in Gaza from friends and rivals alike, most of whom have welcomed the Syrian uprising.


“Having supported the Arab Spring in other countries, especially Egypt, I guess [Hamas] just found it awkward to be supporting the Assad regime, [especially] given that they’re trying to meet challenges in Gaza from people like the Salafists who are more openly supportive of the rebels in Syria.”


Ultimately, beyond Syria, perhaps the larger question is what will become of the ‘Resistance Axis’ now that it appears to have fragmented along political and sectarian lines.


“It’s certainly been weakened,” said Sayigh. “And it’ll be weakened further if the perception grows that this is basically a Shiite axis, or Shiite crescent, connecting the Shiites of Lebanon, Iraq and Iran with the Alawite regime in Syria. If Hamas is the odd one out, that would be very uncomfortable, because they really can’t afford anything that would undermine their [alliances,] with Egypt in particular, but also with the Saudis, who are [still] upset about their takeover of Gaza in 2007. I guess they just don’t have the choice of staying in the Axis of Resistance when almost everyone else sees that in a sectarian way.”


Or, as Dr. Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at Chatham House, put it to NOW more bluntly:


“Without Hamas, the Axis of Resistance is reduced to a mere sectarian alliance.”


by Alex Rowell

Yara Chehayed contributed reporting.

Hezbollah fighter details ops in Qusayr


hezbollah funeral

by Mona Alami

Hezbollah’s implication in the nearby Syrian war has been reported by numerous media outlets. In order to discuss the real scope and depth of the party’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, NOW talks to Hezbollah fighter Abou Ali, who has been deployed to Qusayr.

Why are you fighting in Syria?


Syria has supported the resistance for over 30 years, we need to remain loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Don’t you worry that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria will significantly weaken Hezbollah? Do you believe that you can still fight Israel while waging war on another major front?


People have to understand that Hezbollah is now a regional party. The war in Syria is a preemptive strike on an enemy that was going to export the Syrian conflict into Lebanon; and Hezbollah will not allow for its military and strategic interests to be threatened without responding to such a threat. It will also not enter a war unless it is sure it can win it. Hezbollah can still fight simultaneously on three fronts: in Syria, in the south against Israel, as well as internally. We are expecting to fight a war internally because we feel that those [foreign backers] who are spending money locally are now going to make use of it. All the indicators point in that direction.

Does the war waged by Hezbollah against the Syrian rebels bear any similarity with the war with Israel?


It’s actually very different from Lebanon, with the exception of the battles of Bint Jbeil (in the south), where the terrain and towns with houses built very close together are in many ways similar to Qusayr. Elite and special forces that are now deployed in Qusayr are using the training in street fighting they received in Iran, which was done in mock cities specifically built for this purpose.

Who is Hezbollah fighting in Syria? Is it possible that in a country as big as Syria the rebellion might be solely comprised of foreigners?


Most militants I met were foreign fighters: Europeans, Gulf Arabs, Chechens, Jordanians, and even Filipinos from the Abu Sayyaf movement! Syrians only play a supporting and secondary role in the rebellion unless they fought in Iraq or Libya. These takfiris are savage enemies; they chop off their enemies’ heads because they believe beheading will promote them (on earth and in heaven). Gulf  Arabs are also respected by rebels because they are usually wealthy and can offer a certain financial support to brigades. Jordanians and Somalis are those participating the most in suicide bombings.

Fighting in Qusayr has entered in its third week; why has it been so hard for you to take over the border area?

Qusayr was initially divided in 16 military areas, today an area of five blocks still remains in the control of rebels from the Nusra Front who have taken civilians hostage. We are trying to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, which is slowing down the process. Rebels who are arrested are immediately transferred to the Syrian intelligence so that they can be used in hostage exchange operations.

Rebels are using guerrilla techniques against you in Qusayr. How are you responding to them and what weapons are being used?


We have called upon our specialists to neutralize the tunnel networks built by rebels in certain sectors of Qusayr. These specialists helped Hamas build their tunnel networks in Gaza. Tunnels usually have a basic structure, it is easy for specialists to understand how they work, and they are helping us to destroy them by booby-trapping access and exit points. Rebels have also booby-trapped houses, so the only way to secure a certain perimeter is by blowing up walls to make holes. We are also relying on massive air raids in our military operations to wear down the rebels. Weapons used are mortars, PKK, Dushka, Russian 75, 106, as well as 155.

Many Hezbollah fighters have died in Qusayr. Some have attributed the high death toll to the inexperience of fighters who were sent initially. Is it true?


No it’s not. Reservists who were first sent to Qusayr had received from one month to three or six months training here in Lebanon. It is now the elite and special forces of Hezbollah who are fighting in Qusayr. Everyone who goes to fight in Syria has received a taklif sharii (a religious command).

Is Hezbollah present all over Syria?


At the beginning of the war, elite forces were initially responsible for protecting Shiite shrines. They have now been deployed in different Syrian areas. Besides Qusayr, we are now fighting in Aleppo and rural areas surrounding it, as well as the suburbs of Damascus, Hama, and Idlib. In the Damascus suburbs and Aleppo, we are leading similar operations than those launched in Qusayr due to the nature of the terrain.

Are Iranians fighting in Qusayr?


No, but there are Iraqis in certain Damascus areas more particularly around Shiite shrines.

What is Hezbollah’s role in the current Syrian war? Is it collaborating with the regime’s new People’s Army?


Hezbollah is leading operations in Qusayr; the Syrian army is only playing a secondary role, deploying after an area is completely ‘cleaned’ and secured.   Hezbollah officers coordinate with the People’s Army but fighters never interact. The People’s Army is usually last to deploy after the Syrian army, as they have a better understanding of the area and its residents.

Phone transcripts show Hamas helped triggering Egypt’s revolution

By Missing Peace

What first looked like another Middle East consparicy theory now turns into a sort of Wikileaks scandal. Hamas worked together with the Muslim Brotherhood in triggering the violence that led to Mubarak’s downfall in 2011.
English: Khaled Mashal, leader of Hamas Españo...
The daily Al-Masry Al-Youm has published details of telephone transcripts between Muslim Brotherhood figures and Hamas officials, in which the two groups collaborated on pressuring security forces working to bolster the regime.The details are, if nothing else, specific:

It appears that the Brotherhood knew in advance about the protests which erupted on January 25 – and that they participated in the planning. The first two calls took place between senior Brotherhood members before the mass demonstrations of January 25 and 27. On the 21st, one of them mentions preparations for the demonstrations and adds, “Don’t worry, we shall be helped by our neighbors.” The following day, he says, “Things are okay, the neighbors are ready.” In both cases, “Hamas” may be substituted in place of “neighbors.”

On the 24th, one day before the demonstration, a high-ranking Brotherhood member asks a Hamas official if they know exactly what they are supposed to do; “absolutely,” answers his correspondent.

There is another call on February 2, when the mass protests are reaching a paroxysm. An agitated Brotherhood member asks, “Where are you, I don’t see any of your people,” and the Hamas official replies, “Don’t worry, we are behind the museum [the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square] with our slingshots at the ready.”


The last conversation took place on February 11, after the resignation of Mubarak. The Hamas official congratulates the senior Brotherhood member, saying that “this is our victory also.” The Brotherhood members replies: “You have helped us and we owe you. We shall meet soon.”


When Terrorists fall out..



One of the reasons why the Middle East situation is less fearsome than it might seem is that the radicals and terrorists are not united at all but battle among themselves for tactical, doctrinal, ethnic, and ambition-related reasons.



Despite their daily, bloodthirsty howls for Israel’s destruction, for example, three groups are at odds:



–The Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt wants to revolutionize the Middle East but is putting the priority on entrenching its power in Egypt itself, including dealing with economic and internal security problems. One of its difficulties is a terrorist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. While this includes cross-border attacks on Israel it also involves assaults on Egyptian soldiers, police stations, and other facilities.



–The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip wants to revolutionize the Middle East and puts a high priority on genocide against Israel. But it has to balance backing Salafist and even al-Qaida groups with controlling the timing of its wars on Israel.



–The Salafist groups in the Gaza Strip and Sinai want to attack and wipe out Israel but some of them also want to overthrow the Brotherhood and institute an even more extremist regime in Egypt.



So here is the problem. What happens when Palestinian Salafist groups, including supporters of al-Qaida, want to attack Israel through Egyptian territory or to work with Egyptian Salafist groups to attack Egyptian soldiers or policemen?



Answer: Egypt doesn’t like it.



And Egypt blames Hamas. Why are you helping these people? Or why aren’t you suppressing them? We will let people attack Israel from our territory if and when we want to do so. And, yes, our intelligence does have evidence you are helping these anti-Egyptian forces.



For example, we saw that you weren’t interfering with the smuggling of material to make phony Egyptian army uniforms. Salafists can use these to attack Israel disguised as Egyptian soldiers, thus getting us into a shooting confrontation with Israel while we are trying to borrow money and keep the Americans happy. Or they can even pretend to be our men and kill Egyptians.



So why should we help you when you are helping those who attack us?



The latest event was the firing of two rockets from Egyptian territory against Eilat on April 17. A global jihad-affiliated network in the Gaza Strip calling itself the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of the Environs of Jerusalem claimed responsibility.  Their claimed motive was interesting: to protest two Palestinians killed in Tulkarm in a violent confrontation with Israeli security forces.



In other words, Palestinian Islamists are carrying out their war with Israel using Egyptian territory without permission.



The group’s statement also made the remarkable demand that “the sane members of Hamas” pressure the Hamas government in Gaza to stop trying to arrest its men.



So this is the chain of events:



Hamas must decide whether to allow al-Qaida affiliated or similar groups to attack Israel from Egyptian soil. Even if it doesn’t mind their attacking Israel from Gaza, it needs to keep the Egyptians happy so that the Egypt-Gaza border is kept open for goods, including weapons.



But some Hamas men want instant all-out jihad against Israel.



Hamas must also decide whether to restrain these same groups from waging an Islamist revolution against the Islamist regime in Cairo. Again, perhaps some Hamas gunmen or officials think the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t going fast enough to turn Egypt into a Sharia state. That’s hard to believe, though. Perhaps more likely these Hamas officials are incompetent, bribed, or blackmailed.



At any rate, even though it was completely avoidable, then, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime is very angry at the Hamas Muslim Brotherhood regime. The relationship has been damaged and the Egyptians’ willingness to back up Hamas has been reduced.



Moreover, Israel has given Egypt permission–required under the peace treaty–to  move troops into the eastern Sinai to combat the terrorists. Let’s stop for a moment and realize that when Israel (which the Muslim Brotherhood wants to wipe off the map) cooperates with a radical Islamist regime in Egypt (run by the Brotherhood) to send soldiers to fight radical Islamist terrorists (who want to wipe out Israel and also attack Egypt) you know you are in the Middle East. And you know that the revolutionary Islamists are making major strategic mistakes.



Parallel situations—albeit based on the very intense Sunni-Shia Islamist battle—are creating splits in Lebanon and increased Sunni Muslim antagonism against Hizballah and Iran generally because the latter back the current regime in Syria. Some time ago, Egypt also arrested a number of alleged Hizballah agents in Cairo accusing that group of planning attacks on Egypt. And for more on the Sunni-Shia battle among Islamists see here.



A couple of years ago I wrote an article saying that while the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood hated al-Qaida and saw it as a competitor, the two groups had a lot of parallel ideas. Of course, they don’t agree on a strategy of direct attacks on the United States. The official Brotherhood website, partly misreading my point, did a very polite critique of my article trying to distance itself from al-Qaida.



The response was restrained back then since it was on the English-language propaganda site trying to convince the West that the Brotherhood was moderate. But when you are trying to put down the non-Islamist opposition and land an almost $6 billion IMF loan it’s easy to throw out a few soothing words. Al-Qaida attacks on Egypt and Israel make that game more difficult.



In Egypt now there are four Islamist parties: Brotherhood, Salafist willing to work with the Brotherhood, Salafist critical that the Brotherhood isn’t going fast enough, “moderate” Islamists. Of course, all of them are pushing in the same direction and will cooperate much of the time. A lot of the debate is simply over how fast to convert Egypt into a radical, repressive Sharia state. But at least it makes their task harder.



All of these maneuvers are important and undercut the Islamist revolutionary movement. With Western policy being so confused, ineffective, and ignorant the divisions among enemies may be the best thing going.






If you are interested in reading more about Egypt and radical Islamist movements, you’re welcome to read my book Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics online or download it for free.




If you are interested in reading more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, you’re welcome to read my book The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict online or download it for free.

Egypt: Islamic Jihad Spreads its Wings


The Egyptian judiciary is “pulling the country into an abyss,” the Islamic Jihad movement warned on Monday following news that the South Cairo Criminal Court had ruled to release former President Hosni Mubarak from his pre-trial detention.

The ousted president is being retried on charges of ordering the killing of protesters in the 25 January revolution. Despite the court’s ruling, however, Mubarak will remain in custody pending investigations over other corruption charges related to the misuse of funds allocated for the renovation of presidential palaces.

The judiciary clearly has double standards, as some defendants have been locked up for more than four years awaiting charges as investigations are pending into the Zeitoun terrorist cell and Taba bombing cases, the Islamic Jihad group accused.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm