The first Hamas delegation to Syria in a decade met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, following years of strained ties between the Syrian regime and the Islamist terrorist organization that rules Gaza.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem confirmed that the Hamas officials arrived in Syria alongside other rival Arab factions based in Gaza and the Judea-Samaria region.
“The trip is part of a visit by a number of delegations from Palestinian factions to Damascus,” Qasem said.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said in a press conference that the goal of the trip to Syria was to restore relations with the Assad regime.
“We are restoring our relations with Syria, with the consensus of our leadership,” al-Hayya said, calling the meeting “historic” and assuring journalists that the two sides had repaired their bilateral ties.
“We have overcome the past,” he said.
Al-Hayya indicated that the trip to Syria was a response to alleged Israeli policies in the disputed territories – a “natural response to Israeli schemes against the Palestinian cause.”
Al-Hayya tried to downplay tensions between Hamas and its main rival, Fatah, the party led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
“We are a united nation and resistance in the face of Zionist projects,” he said.
The Hamas official also stressed mutual support between Hamas and the Assad regime in Syria.
“Syria is supportive of the cause and the Palestinians, and we assured Bashar Assad that we are with a united Syria,” al-Hayya said.
In 1999, Hamas chose the Syrian capital, Damascus, as its international headquarters. The choice was intentional; Hamas officials were looking for a safe haven from which to plan terror attacks targeting Israel and the Syrian regime’s militantly-opposed Israel’s existence. However, following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2012, Hamas severed its ties with the Assad regime and closed its offices in Damascus.
The recently improved relations between Hamas and Syria did not occur in a vacuum.
The Iranian regime and its powerful Lebanon-based terror proxy, Hezbollah, played a central role in reopening the dialogue between Hamas and the Assad regime. Since Assad depends on Iran for his regime’s survival, Tehran’s wishes matter greatly inside Syria.
Iran’s goal is to encircle the Jewish state with its terrorist proxies. While Hezbollah is, by far, Iran’s most important organization, Tehran has increased its influence over Hamas in Gaza and has supported and financed the smaller Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
Diplomatic efforts of Iran and Hezbollah finally paid off when Hamas announced its resumption of diplomatic ties with the Assad regime in September.
In its official statement, Hamas articulated its intention “to build and develop solid relations with the Syrian Arab Republic, within the framework of its decision to resume diplomatic relations with our brothers in Syria.”
“Syria has embraced our Palestinian people and the resistance factions for decades, which requires us to stand with it today in light of the brutal aggression it is facing,” Hamas said in reference to ongoing airstrikes against Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria.