Hamas delegation meets Assad in Damascus to 'move beyond the past'

Hamas delegation meets Assad in Damascus to 'move beyond the past'
A small Hamas delegation visited Bashar Al-Assad in Syria on Wednesday 'to turn all the pages of the past', according to Hamas politburo member Khalil Al-Hayya.
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Khalil Al-Hayya (centre) led Hamas's delegation to meet Bashar Al-Assad [LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty]

Bashar Al-Assad met a delegation from Hamas on Wednesday, with the Palestinian Islamist faction saying the meeting could help "turn the page" after shunning the president's Syrian regime for a decade.

Hamas leaders publicly endorsed the 2011 uprising against Assad's rule, which was brutally suppressed by regime forces, and vacated their Damascus headquarters in 2012, a move that angered their common ally, Iran.

Normalising ties with Assad could help restore Hamas's inclusion in a so-called "axis of resistance" against Israel, which includes Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, who have helped the regime during Syria's ongoing civil war.

A small delegation visited Assad in Damascus on Wednesday "to turn all the pages of the past", according to the head of delegation and Hamas politburo member Khalil Al-Hayya.

"We consider it a historic meeting and a new start for joint Syrian-Palestinian action," Hayya told a press conference.

"We agreed with the president to move beyond the past."

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He said several factors had encouraged the rapprochement now, including Israel's controversial development of ties with other Arab countries.

Normalisation of relations between states like the UAE and Bahrain, and Israel has been slammed by Palestinians, who view the step as a betrayal.

"The Palestinian cause today needs an Arab supporter," Hayya said.

Hamas has already restored its ties to Iran, with party officials praising Tehran for its contribution to their Gaza arsenal of longer-range rockets, which they have used in fighting Israel.

It has eased into reconciliation with the Syrian regime more slowly, fearing a backlash from its mostly Sunni Muslim financiers and other supporters, given that most of the victims of Assad's crackdown in Syria were Sunnis.

At least 500,000 people were killed and millions more displaced in the Syrian conflict, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.

Palestinian political analyst Mustafa Sawwaf said Hamas's reconciliatory move aims to create new ground for the Islamist faction.

"I think most of the territories where Hamas is present began to narrow, including Turkey, and therefore, the movement wanted to find other ground, from which it can continue to operate," Sawwaf told Reuters.

(Reuters, The New Arab)