HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)
HAMAS, which includes military and political wings, was formed by the late Sheik Ahmad Yasinat at the onset of the first Palestinian uprising or Intifadah in late 1987, as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The armed element, called the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, conducts anti-Israeli attacks, including suicide bombings against civilian targets inside Israel. Social-political elements engage in "Dawa" or ministry activities, which include running charities and schools, fund-raising and political activities. A Shura council based in Damascus, Syria, sets overall policy. Since winning Palestinian Authority (PA) elections in 2006, HAMAS has taken control of significant PA ministries, including the Ministry of Interior. HAMAS formed an expanded, overt militia called the Executive Force, subordinate to the Ministry.
On October 2, 2009, Damascus-based Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal said the following in a speech commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders by 12th-Century Islamic leader Saladin (Salah al Din): "As the Crusaders' occupation of Jerusalem ended, the occupation of the city by the Zionists will end.... [J]ust as the Crusaders failed over many decades to falsify the facts of history and geography, so too do the Zionists today fail to falsify their claim to history, the land, and geography. Palestine and Jerusalem will remain Arab and Islamic, God willing."
On January 26, 2006, Hamas won a stunning victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that gave it a decisive majority in the legislature. Election officials say Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, while the Fatah party, which had dominated Palestinian politics for decades, secured only 43. By winning a significant majority in parliament, Hamas was in a strong position to oppose negotiations with Israel and support a greater role for Islam in the everyday life of Palestinians.
Immediately after the election, the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union (EU), and the United Nations) indicated that assistance to the PA would only continue if Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which Hamas refused to do. As a result, in early April 2006, the United States and the EU announced they were halting assistance to the Hamas-led PA government (humanitarian aid would continue to flow through international and non-governmental organizations). The EU has been the PA's largest donor since it was created in 1996 under the Oslo peace accords. At the same time, Israel began withholding about $50 million in monthly tax and customs receipts that it collects for the PA. In 2005, international assistance and the Israeli-collected revenues together accounted for about two-thirds of PA revenues. In addition, the PA lost access to banking services and loans as banks around the world refused to deal with the fear of running afoul of U.S. anti-terrorism laws and being cut off from the U.S. banking system.
The resulting fiscal crisis left the Hamas-led government unable to pay wages regularly and deepened poverty levels in the Palestinian territories. The government was forced to rely on shrinking domestic tax revenues and cash that Hamas officials carried back from overseas. Press reports indicated that much of this cash emanated from Iran. By the end of 2006, tensions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were rising as living conditions deteriorated and PA employees, including members of the security forces, went unpaid for weeks or months. Armed supporters of Fatah and Hamas clashed repeatedly, trading accusations of blame, settling scores, and drifting into lawlessness. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the violence.
After months of intermittent talks, on February 8, 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a national unity government aimed at ending both the spasm of violence and the international aid embargo that followed the formation of the initial Hamas-led government. The accord was signed by PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khalid Mish'al in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after two days of talks under the auspices of Saudi King Abdullah. Under the agreement, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remained prime minister. In the new government, Hamas controled nine ministries and Fatah six, with independents and smaller parties heading the remainder. Among the independents are Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, a reformer and ally of President Mahmoud Abbas.
The marriage was short lived, however, as tesnsions between the rival Palestinian factions escalated. The new government was still unable to lift the economic embargo and living conditions continued to deteriorate. As each side jockeyed for position during the ensuing power struggle, fighting finally broke out in May. A series of cease fires could not stem the violence and by June turmoil had gripped the cities. The streets became the scenes of gruesom public executions and local government officials were forced to shut down businesses, schools, and public offices. As the situation worsened President Abbas sacked Prime Minister Haniyeh and dissolved the government on June 14, 2007. After he declared a state of emergency Abbas swore in a new cabinet under the leadership of Salam Fayyad on June 17, 2007. Ismail Haniyeh said he planned to ignore the decree issued by Abbas and would continue to operate as if his government were still in place; but the international community threw its support behind Abbas. In addition to receiving the backing of the Arab League and the European Union, both Israel and the United States announced that they were prepared to lift the financial and economic sanctions against the PA since a new government had been formed bereft of Hamas.
Prior to 2005, HAMAS conducted numerous anti-Israeli attacks including suicide bombings, rocket attacks, IED attacks, and shootings. The group curtailed terrorist attacks in February 2005 after agreeing to a temporary period of calm brokered by the PA, and ceased most violence after winning control of the PA legislature and cabinet in 2006. After HAMAS staged a June 25 attack on IDF soldiers near Kerem Shalom that resulted in two deaths and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Israel took steps that severely limited the operation of the Rafah crossing. HAMAS maintained and expanded its military capabilities during this time. HAMAS has not directly targeted U.S. interests, although the group makes little or no effort to avoid targets frequented by foreigners.
During the 1990s HAMAS probably had several hundred members in its armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, along with its reported 6,000-man Executive Force and tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. By 2010 these numbers were surely much higher, as the HAMAS was the de facto government in Gaza.
Location/Area of Operation
During the 1990s the HAMAS had an operational presence in every major city within the Palestinian territories and focused its anti-Israeli attacks on targets in those territories and Israel. The group retained a cadre of leaders and facilitators that conducted diplomatic, fundraising, and arms smuggling activities in Lebanon, Syria, and other states. By 2010 the HAMAS presence in Judea and Samaria was reduced, while its presence in Gaza was greatly enlarged.
The HAMAS receives funding, weapons and training from Iran. It also receives donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors in Arab states. Some fundraising and propaganda activity takes place in Western Europe and North America.
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