Damascus: soldiers prepare to fire on crowd.
Damascus: soldiers prepare to fire on crowd.Screenshot / Ugarit News

Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal has fled Damascus together with his family, according to a report published Sunday by the London-based al-Hayat newspaper.

The report, quoted by state-run Voice of Israel radio, added that a number of other Hamas leaders and their families had also fled the Syrian capital. The entire group has reportedly taken refuge in Jordan, according to the report.

Another source likewise told the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that Jordan has agreed to accept all of the Hamas families from Damascus -- but only on condition they will not engage in any political activity in the country.

"Jordan's agreements with Israel do not allow it to be entirely open to Hamas, and the Hashemite Kingdom will not let the movement reopen its offices there," the source told the newspaper.

Relations between Jordan and Hamas, at one time less than cordial, have since been "normalized," the source said, following meetings held in the past few weeks between government officials and the terrorist leaders.

The prospect of having to make a sudden departure from Damascus was one that Mashaal had been forced to contemplate for the past several months, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slowly loses his iron grip on the armed forces that have until this year served him unquestioningly.

There have been increasing numbers of soldiers abandoning their posts and defecting to the opposition as the country's burgeoning civil war grows ever more bloody. More than 5,000 people -- nearly all of them unarmed -- have been murdered by Assad's troops since the anti-government "Arab Spring" grassroots uprising began in mid-March, according to United Nations estimates. Thousands more have been wounded, among them many who have been tortured after being arbitrarily arrested -- including children -- and some who have then "disappeared."

Most of the clashes occurred in hotspots such as the central city of Homs, and other spots like Idlib, Dera'a and Hama. But last month the rivers of blood finally began to seep into the capital, Damascus, as well, with an attack on the nation's intelligence headquarters and then clashes in a local neighborhood.

While the Syrian capital has long been home to the Hamas political bureau, even Mashaal could see that the possible impending demise of his long-time patron meant his lease was up and it was time to go.

A report in the al-Hayat newspaper less than two weeks ago quoted a source that said all leading Hamas officials had already made it out of the country, except for Mashaal. Hamas second-in-command Moussa Abu Marzouk was in Amman at that time, where officials warned his presence was conditional on refraining from political or media activity. Hamas was based in Jordan years ago, but moved to Damascus after an alleged Israeli assassination attempt. Mashaal had been scheduled to visit Amman on Friday.