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Hamas: Who Are They?



Hamas is viewed as a terrorist organization in Israel, the US and the EU, but in Palestine it is regarded by its supporters as a legitimate force of freedom fighters against brutal military occupation. The group has taken its name from the Arabic initials for the Islamic Resistance Movement- Harakat Al-Muqawana Al-Islamia. It is divided into different sections dedicated to religious, military, political and security activities. Additionally, it runs a social welfare program, and operates a number of hospitals, schools and religious institutions.

The militia group came into being in 1987 to oppose the Oslo accords that were formulated after the first intifada. According to the accords, the Palestinians were expected to protect Israeli security in exchange for the gradual and partial removal of Israeli’s occupation. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities launched operations against the group, but could not succeed because Hamas did not fight directly with their opponents, instead choosing to launch suicide attacks against them. They carried out several suicide bombings in February and March of 1996, which killed almost 60 Israelis. They launched these attacks in retaliation for the assassination of Yahya Ayyash in December 1995, who was Hamas bomb maker.

Analysts of Middle East politics blame the suicide attacks for making the Israelis reject the peace process. Consequently, Benjamin Netanyahu, a committed opponent of the Oslo accords, came to power in Israel. This later made  the peace talks, which was held between the two groups at Camp David under the supervision of US President Bill Clinton, fail.  Then shortly after this the second intifada started and the militia group continued gaining more influence and power in Palestine. This put it at direct loggerheads with the then Palestinian leadership headed led by Yasser Arafat. Israel responded to the group’s rising popularity by steadily destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian authority, which they claimed was sponsoring the attacks.

These attacks made many Palestinians side with the  militia group and and praised them for carrying out suicide attacks against Israel. They supported the attacks because, to them, it was the best way to get back at the Israeli’s for their unchecked settlement building in the West Bank. However, the highest point for the group was in January 2006 when they won the elections and took over the Palestinian leadership. After this, they resisted all efforts to get them to sign up to previous agreements with Israel. They also refused to recognize Israeli’s legitimacy and to give up the armed struggle.  The militia group’s charter defines historic Palestine, including present day Israel, as Islamic land and it rules out any permanent peace with the Jewish state.  Political analysts believe that this is why several of its members have been assassinated in Israeli security sweeps.

Hamas winning the 2006 election did not in any way give them greater credibility in the eyes of the international community. Israel and its western allies subjected the new government to tough economic sanctions. Despite this, militia group was able to increase  security  and orderliness in the  Gaza strip for awhile. However, Israel tightened its blockade on the Gaza strip and Israeli raids and rocket fire from Hamas continued to make the two sides clash.

The militia group still advocates the destruction of the state of Israel and calls for the raising of “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Like most Palestinian factions and political parties, the group also insists that Israel is an occupying power and that it is simply trying to liberate the Palestinian territories.

Until now, Palestine is divided into two by two factions. The Hamas are in charge of Gaza while the pro-Fatah PA operate in the West bank. Neither side engages properly with the other. This division has made it almost impossible for them to achieve an independent Palestine .

By Michael Obunga

BBC (Profile of Hamas)