Hamas considers whether to pull leadership out of Syria
The deaths of more than 4,000 people, largely at the hands of Mr Assad’s forces, have placed the long-standing relationship between Hamas and Syria under unprecedented strain.
Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, is currently based in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and benefits from the protection of Mr Assad. Syria conducted a major military exercise yesterday, designed as a show of force and a demonstration of the president’s resolve to hold on in the face of a spreading insurgency.
But Hamas fears that its links with an increasingly isolated and discredited regime are becoming a liability. Its decision over whether to leave Syria has been complicated by the position of Iran, the other leading state sponsor of Hamas. Tehran wants the Palestinian group to stay in Syria and has threatened to stop supplying funds and weapons if Hamas decides to leave.
Senior Palestinian officials in the West Bank confirmed that relations between Hamas and Syria have steadily deteriorated.
“Ties between the Syrians and Hamas have been seriously undermined by recent events - they have been bad for some time. But the interference of Iran in this matter is new,” said one.
Iran’s leverage over Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, may be weaker than once thought. Hamas has disclosed that Gaza’s administration relies on outside funding for 30 per cent of its annual budget of $650 million (£415 million). A relatively small proportion of this sum comes from Iran.
Most of Tehran’s support is believed to be in the form of weapons. On March 15, a German-owned ship sailing from Syria to Egypt was found to be carrying more than 50 tons of arms, including mortar bombs, anti-ship missiles and ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles. The consignment’s origin in Iran was shown by the fact that instructions for the munitions were written in Farsi.