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Thursday, May 26, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Hamas in Gaza issues first public challenge
to Damascus leadership

GAZA CITY — For the first time, the Hamas regime has challenged the movement's leadership in Syria.


Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar has issued the first public criticism of the leadership in Damascus. Zahar, said to be close to Iran, challenged the authority of Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al, who helped arrange a reconciliation agreement with the rival Fatah movement.

"The leadership is here [in the Gaza Strip]," Zahar said. "And the part [of Hamas] that is abroad is just a part of that."

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Hours after Zahar's remarks were published, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip issued a denial of the report in Lebanon's Al Akhbar daily, Middle East Newsline reported. The Islamic regime issued a statement that Al Akhbar fabricated Zahar's criticism of Masha'al.

But Hamas sources acknowledged the veracity of Zahar's remarks, and said they reflected rising anger between the Gaza regime and Masha'al. The sources said Zahar, the military and most of the Cabinet resented Masha'al for arranging a deal with Fatah that could endanger the regime in the Gaza Strip, established in 2007 after the ouster of the Palestinian Authority.

"In the end, we have to serve the people and this gives us the right to have the final word on anything that affects the Gaza Strip," a Hamas source said.

In the interview, Zahar, a founder of the movement, was said to have expressed criticism by Hamas's pro-Iranian wing. He said Masha'al could not allow PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate with Israel under a Fatah-Hamas government.

"Our program is against negotiations in this way, because they are a waste of time," Zahar was quoted as saying on May 24. "We didn't know and were not consulted about the position of Khaled Masha'al, and this is not the correct position."

The criticism came as Hamas was preparing to relocate from Syria amid the revolt against President Bashar Assad. So far, no Arab country has agreed to host Masha'al and the rest of the Arab leadership.

Zahar, who has given a series of interviews to the Arab media over the last week, called for a restructuring of Hamas, particularly its leadership. He said the current structure has harmed the Islamic movement and "requires an assessment."

Masha'al aides were not assuaged by denials of the Al Akhbar report. They said Zahar was not authorized to criticize Masha'al.

"The statements of brother Mahmoud Zahar are wrong," Izzat Al Risheq, a political bureau member, said. "They don't present the position of the movement and its institutions. Brother Zahar does not have the mandate to comment on the speech of the head of the movement."

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