London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Hamas leadership has been unable, thus far, to relocate its main headquarters from Damascus, after it has become increasingly difficult for the Palestinian movement to carry out its political operations from Syria, where a popular revolution against the al-Assad regime has been raging for almost a year. Hamas is looking for a country that can serve as a base for the activities of its political bureau members who had previously been using Damascus as a safe haven for themselves and their families. However the general feeling is that it will be extremely difficult for Hamas to find a country that will permit it to transfer its main headquarters to its territory, not least among the Arab states surrounding Israel.
Amman has explicitly rejected the idea of Hamas relocating its base of operations to Jordan, despite the fact that it welcomed the return of Hamas leadership figures who hold Jordanian nationality as ordinary citizens, on the condition that they do not conduct any political activities in the country. This position was made clear by Amman prior to Jordanian King Abdullah II’s meeting with Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khalid Mishal in Amman. King Abdullah II reportedly told the Hamas chief that “Jordan supports the Palestinian authority as well as Palestinian reconciliation” adding “uniting the Palestinians position will strengthen the Palestinian people and help restore their rights.” However Jordanian Information Minister Rakan Majali stressed that the issue of Hamas relocating its base of operations to Jordan was “not on the agenda”.
Khalid Mishal, who was born in the West Bank town of Silwad, holds Jordanian nationality. He previously conducted his political activity from the Jordanian capital, first as a member and later chief of the Hamas Political Bureau, until he was deported to Qatar in 1999. He later settled in Damascus.
Palestinian sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Hamas leadership will not return to Damascus, at least not under the current circumstances, however the sources stressed this was not out of fear for themselves. The Palestinian source revealed there were two major reasons why Hamas would not be returning to Damascus; firstly, in order to avoid the embarrassment which the Syrian revolution is causing Hamas, particularly as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is playing a leading role in the anti-Assad revolt, whilst Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. Secondly, the revolution that is raging throughout the country today has disrupted the Palestinian movement’s political activities and made it increasingly difficult for them to carry out their political operations in the same manner as the past.
Mishal has previously been quoted as saying: “The political situation in Syria does not allow us to move and it will not allow us to receive visitors who refuse to come to Syria.” This was the case with a Swiss envoy who Mishal was forced to meet in Cairo. Also, former US President Jimmy Carter was scheduled to meet with Mishal; however this meeting was later cancelled, with no reason given.
Accordingly, Mishal – whose family members who hold Jordanian nationality have returned to the country – is expected to remain in the Qatari capital, albeit on a temporary basis. Mishal returned to Doha from Jordan, signing the “Doha Declaration” with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, forming a transitional Palestinian government headed by Abbas.
The majority of Hamas Political Bureau members have joined Mishal in Doha, with the exception of Izzat al-Rishiq and some other senior political bureau members. It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of the Hamas Political Bureau have left Damascus.
Palestinian sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of the Hamas Political Bureau members have left Damascus, and will not return there. However the source stressed that Hamas will not officially acknowledge the fact that its political bureau members have left Damascus, and will not shut its offices there, but will rather keep these open until the situation becomes clear.
Another Palestinian source stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Hamas is not under any pressure from the Syrian authorities to leave the country.
As for where the Hamas Political Bureau members are going:
Informed Palestinian sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, who holds a Gaza ID card and an Egyptian travel document, is currently residing in Cairo. Abu Marzook is reportedly currently looking for a residence for himself and his family in the Tajammu al-Khamis district of Cairo. Some reports claim that he is in the process of buying a villa in this area.
Another informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abu Marzook is leading the internal Hamas opposition to the “Doha Declaration” signed by Mishal with Abbas, forming a transitional Palestinian government.
Abu Marzook is among those who aspire to succeed Mishal as chief of the Hamas political bureau. He previously held this post until 1996 when he was forced to step down after being arrested at JFK Airport in New York.
Muhammad Nazzal, who holds Jordanian citizenship and left Amman along with Mishal in 1999, has chosen to return to Jordan. He has been in Amman, along with his family, for some time now, and will be allowed to remain there so long as he does not conduct any political or operational activity relating to Hamas.
As for Imad al-Alami, circumstances have been kind to al-Alami, who was the Hamas representative in Tehran. He is now in the Gaza Strip, having returned there after nearly 20 years in exile.
Hamas Political Bureau member Osama Hamdan, who serves as Hamas representative to Lebanon, will most likely remain in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Hamdan previously served as Hamas representative to Tehran between 1994 – 1998, before his appointment as Hamas representative to Lebanon.
As for Mishal’s close aide Muhammad Nasr, who is also a Hamas Political Bureau member, he is likely to remain in the company of Mishal in Doha, after his family returned to Jordan.
Hamas Political Bureau member Sami Khatir was among those who were deported from Jordan in 1999, along with Nazzal, Mishal, and others. It is believed that he might eventually settle in Amman after his family returned there from Damascus.
Izzat al-Rishiq is the only member of the Hamas Political Bureau whose family remains in Damascus; it is therefore likely that he will continue visiting the Syrian capital in the future.
Hamas refrains from revealing the number of its political bureau members, likely for security reasons. Only the names of Hamas Political Bureau members who are outside of the reach of the Israeli authorities are known publicly. In addition to the figures named above, this includes Mahmoud al-Zahar, Khalil al-Hayya, and Nizar Awadallah, who are the Hamas representatives to the Gaza Strip. A similar number – or perhaps more – Hamas Political Bureau members represent the West Bank, however their names are not disclosed publicly for security reasons. The same applies to the Hamas representative to the Palestinian prisoners.