Illustration: Syrian rebel in Aleppo
Illustration: Syrian rebel in AleppoReuters

One of Syria's most powerful rebel groups has issued a statement slamming Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and deriding his group for its relationship with Iran.

In a communique released via the Army of Islam's Twitter account, the group - a recent conglomeration of major Islamist rebel battalions - cited comments made by Meshal at an unspecified "symposium on Jerusalem," during which he called for an end to "sectarian violence" in Syria, criticized the opposition movement for taking up arms against the regime, and called on armed factions to "direct their guns to Palestine" instead.

Branding those comments as "hypocritical", the statement derided Meshal and the Hamas organization over its ties to Iran - the Assad regime's closest ally - and suggested his criticism of the rebel movement was motivated by a desire to restore Iranian funding to his group.

"Perhaps when Meshaal described the holy Jihad in the Levant [Syria - ed.] with sectarian war, he tried to get an international license of good conduct at the expense of Syrian blood," the communique read.

"Perhaps by announcing that the Mujahideen have missed their target, he is trying to appease Iran, hoping to obtain the money they were sending to him, and we will not be surprised... after this statement if we hear that he moved his headquarters to Tehran."

The relationship between Hamas and Tehran since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011 has been a microcosm of the unpredictable shifts in alliances precipitated by the ensuing sectarian civil war.

Hamas, a Sunni Islamist group, was formerly close to Damascus, but fell out of favor with Assad after voicing support for the Sunni-majority rebels. The Syrian regime is dominated by President Bashar al-Assad's Allawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. 

There were even reports that Hamas operatives were training rebel fighters in the art of urban warfare, though Hamas strongly denied the allegations.

Nevertheless, Hamas' betrayal of its Syrian allies forced it to relocate its headquarters from Damascus to Qatar, and also resulted in a substantial cut in funding from another Shia ally, Iran, which until then had been its main patron.

Since then, however, the group has been far more reticent about throwing its weight behind either side. Growing isolation as a result of anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment in neighboring Egypt (Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood), forced the Hamas leadership to try to patch things up with the Iranian regime.

According to reports, those efforts have yielded some results, with Tehran restoring some of the lost funding to Hamas - though precise figures are difficult to come by.

For the Sunni rebels, however, the Iranian regime - along with its Hezbollah allies - are public enemy number one, and Hamas' relationship with Tehran is viewed as a signal that the group has sold out.

"We are, God willing, more adhering [sic] to Al Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem - ed.] than Khaled Meshaal and his ilk, who are trading their cause and the blood of the sons of their nation," the statement declared, adding, "Those who are exercising the Jihad in offices should not redirect advices [sic] to those in the trenches."

Nevertheless, hostility towards Hamas does not translate into sympathy for Israel.

The Army of Islam continued by echoing sentiments by notorious Arab-Israeli Islamist Raed Salah, that "liberating Al Aqsa Mosque begins by liberating Damascus," highlighting the reason behind the Israeli government's policy of non-intervention in the Syrian conflict.