Hamas confirmed on Sunday that its leadership has left its longtime base in Syria because of the crackdown on protests there, The Associated Press reported.
The terror group’s No. 2, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told AP that Hamas still has offices in Syria, but acknowledged that “practically, we are no longer in Syria because we couldn't do our job there.”
Abu Marzouk, who according to AP has moved to a cottage on the outskirts of Cairo where he uses the second floor as an office, told the news agency that the group’s politburo chief, Khaled Mashaal, and his aides have moved to Doha.
“Our position on Syria is that we are not with the regime in its security solution, and we respect the will of the people,” he told AP.
In recent months, Hamas has increasingly drifted away from longtime patrons Iran and Syria, in part because it would lose popularity if associated with Syrian President Bashar Assad's bloody campaign against regime opponents.
Abu Marzouk’s comments verify Arab media reports from earlier this month, according to which Mashaal, fearing to return to Syria, set up shop in Qatar.
Abu Marzouk is also reportedly a member of a camp within Hamas that is calling for the terror group to break off its ties with Iran.He was recently quoted as having said that he believes that Hamas should not disassociate itself from Iran without receiving something in return.
Abu Marzouk reportedly told one of his associates in Jordan that Hamas cannot abandon Iran without finding an alternative among the other Arab countries.
In his Sunday interview with AP, however, he said Hamas wants to keep its ties with Iran, but stood up to Tehran in refusing to side with Assad.
“The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy they don't deal with you in the same old way,” Abu Marzouk said, though he would not say how much money Hamas receives from Iran.
The group’s deputy politburo chief also addressed the unity deal between Hamas and its political rival, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. Abu Marzouk told AP the deal faces steep obstacles despite optimistic assessments made by both sides in public.
The unity deal, which was reached earlier this month in Doha, called to have Abbas lead an interim unity government ahead of general elections. During talks in Cairo last week, however, Hamas reneged on the previous agreement and outlined new terms.
Abbas insists that the interim government adopt his nonviolent political program, Abu Marzouk said, but Hamas is arguing the government should have no political program at all since it will be short-lived.
He added that Hamas also wants the government to be sworn in by and be accountable to the outgoing Hamas-dominated parliament, defunct since the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, but Abbas refuses to accept that.