CAIRO — The Hamas prime minister of Gaza on Friday expressed support for Syrian protesters seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, the first time a senior Hamas leader has publicly rebuked the group’s longtime patron.
Ismail Haniyeh said after Friday prayers at Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque that Hamas commends “the brave Syrian people that are moving toward democracy.
Assad has long hosted and supported leaders of the Islamic militant movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, but the group has significantly reduced the presence of its exiled leaders in Syria since the start of the 11-month-old uprising against the Syrian regime.
Some of the top Hamas leaders are now spending most of their time in Qatar, Egypt and Lebanon, as the group tries to distance itself from Assad’s brutal crackdown on opponents.
The United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, viewed Haniyeh’s remarks on Syria positively.
“It just speaks to how isolated Assad is,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Haniyeh’s speech was another sign of Hamas’ drift away from longtime backers Iran and Syria, as it finds new allies in the region. Hamas’ isolation has eased since its parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, gained political influence in the region, including in Egypt, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. more