The Hamas-Hezbollah Split on the Syrian War
By: Qassem Qassem
Published Friday, June 21, 2013
Recent rumors depict the Hezbollah-Hamas partnership as deteriorating under the weight of the war in Syria. One rumor even claimed that Hezbollah gave Hamas a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Lebanon. Though the relationship is lukewarm, there is ongoing coordination between the two sides.
A delegation from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, recently visited Beirut. There, the guests were received by Hezbollah, with the party taking care of security details and accommodations. Beirut was just a stop along the way to Iran, where the military wings of various Palestinian factions go to train.
Despite political differences between Hamas and Hezbollah, nothing has changed when it comes to the military relationship between the two sides. For its part, Iran remains committed to training and arming Qassam fighters, a “red line that has not been breached so far,” according to sources in both resistance movements.
Recent reports claimed that Hamas militants were fighting alongside the armed opposition in Syria. Hamas leaders have denied this categorically, maintaining that officials have opted to leave the Syrian capital so as not to take any sides.
On the other hand, sources close to Hezbollah and the Syrian regime claim that Hamas had a role to play in the battles of Qusayr. The sources say that the tunnels discovered in the strategic Syrian town had been dug using small Iranian devices that Hezbollah had transferred to Hamas.
The sources said, “What delayed the military operation was the explosives planted by the militants everywhere, from windows to television sets and even teapots, in addition to using motion-sensitive explosives – all methods that the resistance fighters use against the enemy.” Some of the explosives, they added, were found to contain electronic chips that Hamas had acquired from Iran and Hezbollah.
When asked whether it was possible that some of the militants who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq had shared their expertise with the Syrian opposition, sources close to Hezbollah said, “Some of the tunnels we found were primitive, and did not have ventilation holes to blow off the pressure from the rockets that might fall on them. But there were also tunnels nearly six meters underground, similar to the ones we usually dig.”
The sources then said, “Let’s say that digging the tunnels does not need a lot of know-how, but their booby-trapping methods are the same as ours.”
Hamas’ Qusayr Denial
Hamas denied these reports. Ali Baraka, a Hamas official in Lebanon, said, “We sat down with Hezbollah and asked them about rumors alleging the capture of Hamas fighters in Qusayr and about explosives we had received from the Resistance before, but Hezbollah leaders denied all this.”
Baraka then asked, “How can we keep explosives we received in 2008 and not send them to Gaza? All weapons we receive are sent directly to Palestine. Those who can bring Fajr rockets in will not keep small explosive devices.”
Concerning reports about Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal’s bodyguard joining the Free Syrian Army, Baraka said that he “was expelled after the politburo left Damascus, and is currently detained by al-Nusra Front in the Yarmouk camp because of a dispute between them.”
Hamas Inside Palestine Favors Hezbollah
There are debates within Hamas on the group’s position in Syria, as well as its relationship with Iran, Hezbollah, and some Arab countries.
Hamas leaders deny such disputes and stress that the military wing is committed to the decisions of the politburo. This was confirmed by its military spokesperson Abu Obeida at a Gaza press conference. Nevertheless, a different story unfolds on the ground.
Leaders in Gaza have expressed their resentment over the presence of Meshaal in Qatar. There are divergent camps within the Qassam Brigades, one close to Meshaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and another close to Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar and the late Ahmed al-Jaabari, second-in-command of the group’s military wing. The second side believes that the liberation of Palestine and securing arms for the resistance are only possible through Iran, and not Qatar.
According to sources close to Hamas, Iran was the only country to support Hamas directly with both money and arms. But Iran has taken notice of Hamas’ exit from Syria, and the angry exchange that reportedly took place between Jabari and the Qatar Emir Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, during the latter's visit to Gaza.
Jabari, who withdrew from that meeting with Hamad, was killed less than a month later. Today, there is talk of a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel.
On a different note, Tehran and the Resistance in Lebanon have reportedly received reassurances from Qassam, which has said it refuses to see Hezbollah as a Shia party at odds with Sunnis. The above notwithstanding, sources in Hamas confirmed that Iranian military support has declined, while Iran has stepped up its training and backing of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades of the Popular Front and the Islamic Jihad.
After Hezbollah’s participation in the battle of Qusayr, sectarian divisions have grown in the Palestinian refugee camps. For some, Hezbollah has transformed from a resistance movement against Israel to a Shia party fighting the Sunnis in Syria.
Hamas has picked up on this, and found itself compelled to prevent tarnishing the image of the Lebanese resistance group, especially in Saida’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, where some set fire to Hezbollah aid packages. Hamas took measures to ensure this does not happen again, arguing that no matter what Hezbollah does, it remains an Islamic faction that must not be declared an apostate.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.