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.