The massive terrorist attack on Israel cities, followed by a brutal counterstrike, have brought the Hamas group under the spotlight. The Palestinian terrorist group made global headlines yesterday by firing over 5,000 rockets at Israel and overpowering its formidable aerial defence system, the Iron Dome. More than 500 people have been killed in Hamas’ attack and Israel’s retaliation.
Here is a look at Hamas’ history, ideology and demands
How Hamas Began
The organisation was founded in 1987 by Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi as an arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas stands for Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement. ‘Hamas’ means zeal. In 1988, a Hamas Charter spelt out that its goal was to liberate Palestine and to establish an Islamic State in the area that spans Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In later years, the group has said it would accept a truce if Israel retreats to pre-1967 borders, pays reparations and allows Palestinian refugees to return. It has also said it would end its links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel, however, has trashed Hamas’ claims and accused it of trying to “fool the world”.
Hamas: Structure And Support
Hamas has a cultural wing, Dawah, and a military arm, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas enjoys the backing of Iran and is part of a bloc comprising Iran, Syria and Islamist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. All the members of the bloc oppose the US policy in the region. According to reports, Iran’s foreign ministry has said Hamas’ attacks yesterday were proof of “Palestinian people’s confidence in the face of the occupiers”. Hamas has supporters across Palestine territories and in other countries of the Middle East. In the region, Iran, Syria and Yemen have backed Hamas on the attacks, describing them as “proud” and “heroic”. Qatar has held Israel solely responsible for the situation. Arab League and Jordan, too, have flagged Israel’s policies and its link to the current conflict. Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia have called for restraint.
Globally, Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, European Union, Canada, Egypt and Japan. In 2018, a resolution moved by US to condemn Hamas’ activities was voted down in the UN General Assembly.
Hamas vs Fatah
Hamas’ emergence in the Palestinian political scene brought it in direct confrontation with Fatah, founded and led by Yasser Arafat. Founded as a paramilitary organisation, Fatah, in the 1990s, later gave up armed resistance and backed the UN Security Council resolution to build a Palestinian State as per the 1967 borders alongside an Israeli State. Arafat’s death in 2004 created a vacuum amid which Hamas emerged stronger. In 2007, the group seized control in Gaza after a civil war with Fatah. Since then, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip, while Fatah holds power in the West Bank. While Hamas identifies itself as Islamist, Fatah advocates secularism. The two sides are also different in their approach towards Israel. Hamas does not recognise Israel. While Hamas calls for armed resistance, Fatah has pushed for negotiations to find a way out. The two forces have consistently been locked in a turf war over the past couple of decades. Multiple agreements to resolve the conflict have collapsed. The latest fallout of this conflict was Hamas boycotting the 2021-22 Palestinian local elections. Fatah is currently led by Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the State of Palestine.
In a statement issued after yesterday’s attacks, the State of Palestine did not name Hamas and said it has “repeatedly warned against the consequences of blocking the political horizon and failing to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate right to self-determination and establish long their own state”.