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Wednesday, October 19, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Hamas pursuing diplomatic, operational presence throughout Mideast

CAIRO — Hamas, which gained the release of hundreds of senior operatives, has laid the groundwork for a presence throughout the Middle East.


Palestinian sources said Hamas was working to build a diplomatic and operational presence in at least four countries in the Middle East that would mark an alternative to the movement's headquarters in Syria. They cited Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey, saying other countries could later be added.

"Hamas has become the de facto representative of the Palestinian people and will now start to receive diplomatic and other privileges from regional states," a Palestinian source familiar with Hamas said.

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The sources said Hamas has already established a presence in at least nine Middle East states, including Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Hamas plans to use some of these countries as alternatives to Syria, whose ruling regime has been fighting a revolt since March.

"Hamas will slowly move its key people out of Damascus, but will keep Syria as an operational base because of its proximity to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip," the source said. "High profile activities will be conducted outside Syria, particularly in Egypt and hopefully Jordan."

The sources said Qatar has been the leading political ally and financier of Hamas in the Arab world. They said Qatar was pressing Jordan to allow Hamas to reestablish a formal presence in the Hashemite kingdom after an absence of nearly a decade.

The sources said Hamas wants to use Jordan as a base for operations in the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority. They said the two sides were scheduled to meet on Oct. 20 when Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al arrives in Amman accompanied by senior Qatari officials.

"Qatar is willing to pay [Jordan's] King Abdullah to again host Hamas, but this is very problematic while he has his hands full with the Islamic opposition," another Palestinian source said.

Both Israel and the United States have been dismayed by the expanded Arab support for Hamas, particularly by Egypt and Qatar, military allies of Washington. But the sources said the Arab campaign has been explained as part of an effort to woo Hamas away from Iran, the leading military supplier to the Palestinian Islamic movement.

The sources said Egypt's new military regime has agreed to work closely with Hamas on such issues as border cooperation, lifting the siege from the Gaza Strip and the release of Palestinians held by Israel. They said Cairo was encouraged by the implementation of the first stage of a deal in which Israel would release more than 1,000 prisoners for an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2006.

"The assessment in Cairo as well as in other capitals is that the PA and Fatah is finished, and that Hamas represents the next generation of the Palestinians," the second source said.

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