BEIRUT: A senior Hamas official called for dialogue with Syria to restore ties severed by the Palestinian Islamist movement’s alleged support for rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime. Raafat Murra, Hamas’ political representative in Beirut, also vehemently denied reports of a break in the movement’s relations with Hezbollah, stressing that the two groups are united over the Palestinian cause and resistance against Israeli occupation.
Asked where Hamas now stands on the conflict in Syria, which has entered its fifth year with no end in sight, Murra told The Daily Star in an interview: “The Hamas Movement has had a clear stance on the Arab social changes that are happening in the Arab world. The Hamas movement has declared from the very beginning that peoples have the right to seek rightful social, civil and political demands, enjoy freedom and democracy and exercise freely and normally political and social activity inside these societies within the normal rules applied in these societies.”
“We have said that we reject violence, foreign intervention and the resort to force. We have always called for dialogue and resolving problems in a calm manner through the society’s mechanisms and through the interests of every society. The [break] in our relations with the Syrian regime was caused by the stance we have upheld [on the Syrian uprising],” he added.
Damascus had hosted Khaled Meshaal, chief of Hamas’ political bureau, along with senior Hamas officials, for more than a decade until the outbreak of the anti-regime uprising in March 2011. Following tension with the Assad regime, Meshaal moved his base from Damascus to Qatar in 2012.
Hamas has been accused of fighting Assad’s forces in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, particularly the Yarmouk camp, a charge the group has denied.
Similarly, Hamas’ relations with its traditional backer Iran have been soured by the Syrian conflict. Iran is a close ally of Assad. Hamas has for months trumpeted an upcoming visit to Tehran by Meshaal for talks with Iranian leaders on mending ties. But so far the visit has not materialized. Iran has long been a major supplier of military and financial aid to Hamas.
Murra strongly denied reports that Hamas had fought alongside anti-regime rebels in Syria. “These reports are untrue. Hamas has no military presence in Syria or in any other Arab country,” he said. “Hamas has military presence only in occupied Palestine. Hamas does not fight any Arab regime or any Arab society and does not interfere in the internal affairs of any society.”
“We have always called for distancing the Palestinian camps in Syria from the conflict because we are not a party to the social changes and internal problems. We have called for the withdrawal of gunmen from all factions and to put the camps under a Palestinian administration,” Murra added.
Asked how long the break in Hamas’ ties with Syria would continue, he said: “Until we agree on logical bases in the relationship. Hamas’ relations with everyone should be founded on the basis of the resistance [against Israel], confronting [ an unfair peace] settlement, [safeguarding] the security and stability of the societies without interference [by Hamas] in the internal political affairs of any state.”
“Hamas has never been in the Syrian house,” he said when asked whether any mediators were seeking to bring the group back to the Syrian house. “We are not in anyone’s house. We are in the house of Palestine, the house of unity, the house of the resistance and the house of confronting [an unfair peace] settlement.”
Murra called for dialogue between Hamas and Damascus to mend fences, saying his group recognized Syria’s geographical importance to Palestine.
“Our return to Syria should be the result of dialogue and understanding. It’s not a matter of location. We realize the importance of Syria, its standing and its geographical location and the historical links between Palestine and Syria,” he said.
“But we have rejected the use and exploitation of local violence. We rejected what happened in Syria and have called from the beginning for a halt to violence, [we] stressed [the need] for dialogue and rejected foreign intervention in Syria by any party,” he added. “It’s better for the Syrians to engage in dialogue and internal understanding for the sake of Syria’s unity, security and stability.”
The official categorically denied reports of hostility or a rupture in the group’s ties with Hezbollah.
“It’s not true. There is no hostility or a break [in ties] between the Hamas movement and Hezbollah,” Murra said. “We are keen on understanding based on Palestine, the resistance and confronting the Zionist dangers, and [based] on the unity and protection of this Umma [Arab nation]. Therefore, communications still exist and have never been severed.”