Khaled Mashaal
Khaled MashaalAFP photo

The Hamas terrorist group left Syria because President Bashar Al-Assad refused to consider a political solution to the conflict in the country, its leader Khaled Mashaal said.

In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4, which aired on Thursday, Mashaal said, “The military approach is wrong. It makes the crisis worse. It doesn’t solve anything, it only makes it more complicated. What we are witnessing today proves our advice was right.”

The interview came amid reports that the head of Hamas in Lebanon, Ali Barakha, was informed by Hizbullah that his people were no longer welcome in the country, and that Hamas members should evacuate the country immediately. The message raised the possibility that the two Islamist groups could end up fighting each other in Lebanon, as each vies for influence with opposing parties in Syria, analysts said.

Mashaal denied that his group was supporting the rebels fighting Assad, saying, “We do not interfere in Syrian internal affairs nor do we interfere in the Syrian crisis and this is our policy towards the Arab Spring and all other Arab and non-Arab countries in the world.

“Hamas policy is against any foreign intervention in our countries,” he added. “This is our general principle. But at the same time we support the rights of people to freedom, democracy and reform and we are against the use of force and violence, massacres, and military options against them. We support people to win their rights, but we are against foreign intervention.

“The international community has been talking about this for months and I think there is a kind of deception going on, and that there is a hidden agenda from many international parties to prolong the Syrian crisis and destroy Syria. These parties do not want to see recovery for Syria…they use positive slogans but in reality their attitude identifies with the Israeli agenda of destroying Syria, more death, and prolonging the Syrian crisis,” said the Hamas leader.

He denied that Hamas’s leaving Syria and moving its headquarters to Qatar was a message to Assad that he needs to go.

“This is not what we meant. We, as the leadership of Hamas, had to leave Damascus the moment we felt that our efforts to convince the Syrian leadership to choose a solution other than the military one failed,” said Mashaal. “On the other hand, the Syrian leadership was not happy with Hamas’ political stance and also, I felt they wanted to put pressure or demand on us to stand by the official Syrian position and support the leadership in their military solution to the Syrian issue … this is why we did not feel then I could stay, so we left – circumstances forced itself on us, but if Assad goes or stays, that’s up to the Syrian people not to us.”

In the first months of the uprising, Hamas’s leaders expressed support in principle for the struggle of the Syrian people while also highlighting the importance of the movement’s historical relationship with the Syrian regime.

However, as the rift deepened, reports surfaced that Hamas was moving its headquarters from Damascus and strengthening itself in the Sinai and in Qatar.

Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave. In November, Syrian security forces shut down all the offices belonging to Hamas in the country.

In the interview with Channel 4, Mashaal also slammed Israel for its “assault against Gaza” and claimed that it is an “occupying force”. The remarks were made in response to a question by the interviewer, Alex Thomson, that Hamas and Israel were “close to being on the same side” because of the rift between Hamas and Assad.

“Israel looks after its own interest and has its own policy of assault no matter which country it’s assaulting, if it’s Lebanon or Syria or any other country in the world. Israel is our enemy,” Mashaal stated.

“I am surprised that the world keeps concentrating on the recognition of Israel and its right to exist, while it is an existing state on the ground, occupying the land and expelling its people while practicing all manner of killings, aggression and terror,” he added. “In all civil and religious laws in the world, there is no legitimacy to anyone who establishes themselves by means of violation and the seizure of land and the rights of others. Does the international community accept this equation?”

He stressed that PA Arabs “are the real owners of the land. We have the right to live freely without occupation, settlements, aggression, prisons and Jewishization of the land. The law I believe in, and I think it’s the same for every human being in the world, not only the Arabs and all Muslims, is that there is no legitimacy or future for occupation or aggression.”

Asked if there were any circumstances in which he could conceive shaking hands with the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mashaal replied, “Although the question is legitimate, how can I have peace with a killer like Netanyahu. Think logically. I am the Palestinian victim, my land is occupied, and my people are displaced. Netanyahu is waging war against my own people, and denies my rights, so why would the world expect me to shake his hand in the future? There was a historical handshake between Rabin and Arafat, in the White House garden, but what was the result? This hand, Arafat’s, the hand that shook Rabin’s hand, was poisoned and killed by Rabin’s followers after that.”

Several months ago, Mashaal claimed in a CNN interview that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state along the indefensible pre-1967 borders but would refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)