Hamas Not Taking Sides In Syria Crisis: Zahar

A senior Hamas official in Gaza said on Saturday the Palestinian Islamist movement was not taking sides in the conflict between the Syrian regime and the insurgency.

Senior Hamas official Mahmud Zahar (C) is greeted by crowds as he leaves Cairo's Al-Azhar grand mosque following a visit in February 2012. Zahar said on Saturday the Palestinian Islamist movement is not taking sides in the conflict between the regime and the insurgency in Syria.

A senior Hamas official in Gaza said on Saturday the Palestinian Islamist movement was not taking sides in the conflict between the Syrian regime and the insurgency.

"Our position on Syria is the same as on other Arab revolutions," said Mahmud Zahar.

"We cannot take one side, with half a million Palestinians living in complete freedom in Syria having to (face the consequences) of this position."

Late last month, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, offered his support to "the heroic Syrian people, who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform."

That was a departure from the movement's previously professed neutrality to the protest in Syria, where the Hamas leadership in exile is based.

"We advised the Syrian regime to solve its problems by giving more freedom to the Syrian people, in order to strengthen Syria so that it would be able to free the occupied Golan territory and support the resistance (against Israel)," Zahar said on the sidelines of a medical forum in Gaza.

"We do not seek to get involved in internal or regional Arab conflicts. Our fundamental struggle is directed against the Israeli occupation of Palestine," he added.

News reports, systematically denied by Hamas, reported a de facto departure of its leadership in exile from Damascus, because of the repression of dissent involving the Muslim Brotherhood which is ideologically close to the Palestinian Islamist movement.

According to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, there were more than 496,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Syria living in 12 camps as of 2011.

In August, Syrian gunboats pounded the port city of Latakia, forcing more than 5,000 Palestinians to flee the Ramel refugee camp there.

Most of the Palestinians in Syria were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict that accompanied the Jewish state's foundation in 1948.