Hamas Leader: Palestinian Protests a Response to U.S. Moving Embassy to Jerusalem

Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh sends a conciliatory message to Syria's Assad in interview with Russian media

Hamas Politburo Chief Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City April 30, 2018
REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Hamas politburo chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, told Russian news agency Sputnik on Monday that the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not an issue that can be dealt with by force. Haniyeh added that the thousands-strong protests in the West Bank Sunday night were a popular reaction to the embassy move.

Over 1,500 people demonstrated in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday night calling for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to lift punitive sanctions imposed on Gaza in an attempt to weaken Hamas, the rival Palestinian faction that rules the Strip. The demonstration is the biggest popular show of solidarity toward Gaza seen in the West Bank since the beginning of the "Great March of Return" in Gaza.

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Over 1500 demonstrate in Ramallah calling on Abbas to lift sanctions on Gaza

Demonstrators chanted slogans in support of Gaza. Some slogans targeted the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of being a "contractor of the occupation" while the Gaza Strip is revolting and calling for an end to security coordination with Israel.

Some activists hung posters carrying claims that Hamas was responsible for the situation in the Strip. A group of young demonstrators also called for armed struggle and the "return to guns and missiles."

Haniyeh added that "Iran is a central country in our area and the communication with it is strategic. Iran has greatly supported the Palestinian people and the resistance, and the connection with Iran today is very special and very developed."

Iran has been one of Assad's strongest backers since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, pumping billions of dollars into the economy and sending advisers as well as Iranian-backed fighters to help him stay in power. 

In the same interview, and for the first time since taking office as Hamas politburo chief in May 2017, Haniyeh delivered a conciliatory message to the Syrian regime in response to the fallout between Hamas and Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011.

Haniyeh said that "Hamas did not initiate severing the communication with the regime." Rather, Haniyeh claimed, the circumstances that developed in the region led to this situation but "the Syrian people and the Syrian regime always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and supported its rights."

Hamas refused to support Assad in the civil war that started in 2011. In 2012, Hamas moved its headquarters out of Damascus and the Syrian regime has accused Hamas of providing support to the Syrian opposition. When Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him. The rebels are largely Sunni Muslims, like Hamas, and scenes of Sunni civilian deaths raised an outcry across the region against Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect.

Hamas and Iran did not completely cut off their alliance after the fall-out with Assad. But ties cooled considerably. Tehran's funding continued, particularly for Hamas' armed wing, but at a reduced level, while political connections dwindled.