SIDON, Lebanon: Hezbollah and Hamas downplayed over the weekend reports of a rift between the two resistance movements over the crisis in Syria, after a round of apparent reconciliation talks that called for an end to sectarian rhetoric in the region. Hamas officials stressed that their relationship with Hezbollah remained strong despite their differences over Syria, where the U.N. estimates that over 93,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.
“The relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah is solid and strong, and our offices are in our safe refuge in the heart of Dahiyeh,” a Hamas official, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star. “ Hezbollah has its own political view and we also have our own different view on the events in Syria.”
Hamas officials vacated their offices in Syria and sided with the rebels after the start of the uprising, citing regime violence.
The official’s comments coincided with a meeting held Saturday between Hezbollah and Hamas officials, including former Hezbollah MP Hasan Huballah and Ali Barakeh, the Hamas representative in Lebanon.
A statement by Hezbollah’s media office said the officials discussed “the existential challenges targeting the Muslim and Arab world today, particularly the war in Syria and its consequences for the whole region, especially the resistance project, the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.”
The Hamas official, who traveled between Damascus and Beirut prior to the uprising, said Hamas left Syria due to security concerns and the regime’s refusal to protect Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in a mediation attempt with the opposition in Deraa, the town that sparked the uprising.
He denied that Hamas had sent soldiers to take part in recent fighting in the town of Qusair, though he said a few “experts and fighters” have taken up arms without the party’s blessing.
He disclosed details of a secret meeting late last week between Hezbollah and a high-ranking Hamas official carrying a letter from Meshaal. Hezbollah responded to the letter by stressing unity with Hamas and calling on it to help defuse sectarian tension.
Hezbollah also thanked Hamas for its efforts in preventing the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon from being drawn into the Syrian conflict.
Reports of tensions between Hamas and Hezbollah gained steam in recent weeks, with allegations that Hamas had sent fighters to Qusair, where regime forces backed by Hezbollah fought a fierce battle to regain control of the town on the border of Lebanon.
One Hezbollah fighter also claimed that Hamas had trained rebel fighters in combat tactics originally gleaned from Hezbollah.
Last week, the Lebanese General Security directorate denied a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper As-Seyassah claiming that Hamas officials were being denied entry visas based on instructions from Hezbollah.
Tensions have mounted recently between Beirut’s southern suburbs and the surrounding refugee camps, with shootouts between Shiite and Palestinian gunmen.
Informed sources told The Daily Star that Hamas had prevented some Palestinian camp residents from burning aid packages provided by Hezbollah for Syrian refugees.
The sources also denied that Hamas was planning to move operatives from the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Syria to Lebanon.
The U.N. estimates that over half a million Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the uprising started.
Hamas spokesman Raafat Murra denied that Hamas had been asked to leave its offices in the Beirut southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut, adding that the meeting was “normal and friendly after the tensions in the region.”
Last week, the Hezbollah leadership issued a memo to all officials prohibiting them from making statements against Hamas or leaking anti- Hamas information to the media.
The Hezbollah media office statement said the officials “reaffirmed Syria’s unity in the face of the Zionist-American project in the region,” and rejected foreign intervention.
The officials called on “country leaders, religious scholars and party leaders to work strenuously to stop sectarian and religious agitation,” according to the statement.
The officials also condemned what they said was the Israeli exploitation of regional tensions to step up a campaign of oppression against the Palestinians, and called on the international community to aid Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.
The Hamas official also gave additional details on his party’s stance on the situation in Syria, saying they had opposed what he called the “militarization” of the revolution.
He said his group had decided to leave Syria shortly after a breakdown in communications when Meshaal refused to pose for a photograph with Assad to show support for the regime.
The Hamas official said Hezbollah continued to provide security for Hamas officials and their families in Lebanon, adding that he believed there had been a campaign by some Lebanese and Palestinian factions to damage the relationship between the two resistance movements.