Syrian media lash out at Palestinian Hamas group

Associated Press
In this photo provided by Turkish Prime Minister's Press Service, Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks during the congress of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Kayhan Ozer)
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BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's state-run media unleashed a scathing attack on the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, accusing him of turning his back on President Bashar Assad and describing him as ungrateful and traitorous.

In an editorial aired late Monday, Syrian TV said Khaled Mashaal, who pulled Hamas' headquarters out of Damascus early this year, had abandoned the resistance movement against Israel and the United States. The comments show just how deeply ties between Hamas and the Syrian regime — once staunch allies — have frayed since the anti-Assad uprising erupted 18 months ago.

The regime's verbal attack appeared to be prompted by Mashaal's decision to take part in a major conference Sunday of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party. Erdogan has been one of Assad's sharpest critics.

Less than two years ago, Syria, Iran, Hamas and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group were part of what they called an "axis of resistance" against Israel and the United States. With Hamas' departure, they lost a major Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip.

Relations between Assad's regime and Hamas have been disintegrating ever since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011 with protests demanding reforms. It has since devolved into a brutal civil war, and activists say more than 30,000 people have been killed so far.

Hamas initially staked out a neutral position toward the uprising, but as the estimated 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria became increasingly outraged over the regime's brutal crackdown on protesters, Hamas came under pressure for its cozy ties with the government, prompting the group in February to shift its stance and praise Syrians for "moving toward democracy and reform."

Since then, most Hamas leaders have left Syria for Egypt, where their allies in the Muslim Brotherhood have taken power in elections following the successful uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has been a strong critic of Assad and his government, calling them an "oppressive regime."

Mashaal himself shuttered Hamas' Damascus offices and now spends most of his time in Qatar, the tiny Gulf country that has strongly backed the rebels battling to overthrow the Assad regime.

In its editorial, Syrian state TV sought to remind Mashaal, who holds Jordanian citizenship, of when he was expelled from Jordan in 1999 for "illicit and harmful" activities, and how several countries refused to welcome him after he was kicked out.

"Remember when you were a refugee aboard planes. Damascus came and gave you mercy," the station said. "No one wanted to shake your hand then as if you had rabies."

It also accused Mashaal of turning a blind eye to Egypt's attempts to close tunnels used to smuggle supplies into the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip, saying he is "cooperating in the strikes on the tunnels of freedom and life."

When Syria's unrest began, the country's half-million Palestinians at first struggled to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, young Palestinian refugees — enraged by mounting violence and moved by Arab Spring calls for greater freedoms — have been taking to the streets and even joining the rebels in a fight that has grown increasingly bloody in recent months.

On Tuesday, activists reported clashes between rebels and government forces in Damascus near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk as well as the neighborhoods of Qadam and Assaly.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist groups also said at least five people were killed and dozens wounded when government troops shelled the Palestinian refugee camp of Naziheen in the southern city of Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian revolt.

The Observatory and the LCC also reported violence in areas including the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo and the eastern region of Deir el-Zour on the border with Iraq.

The Observatory said Turkish troops opened fire across the border into Syria killing a Kurdish-Syrian guard and wounding two others. In Turkey, Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency, carried a similar report saying one was killed and two wounded by Turkish fire. The report included names of the casualties and says the body of the dead man was taken to a mosque and will be buried Tuesday.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the report.

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