Official: Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria

By Elizabeth A. Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Although Hezbollah's ties to Syria have stayed strong during the uprising, the government's longstanding relations with the Palestinian militant group Hamas have frayed.

Syria's state-run media unleashed a scathing attack on the leader of Hamas, accusing him of turning his back on Assad and describing him as ungrateful and traitorous.

In an editorial aired Monday, Syrian TV said Khaled Mashaal, who pulled Hamas' headquarters out of Damascus this year, had abandoned the resistance movement against Israel and the United States.

The comments show just how much ties between Hamas and the Syrian regime — once staunch allies — have disintegrated since the uprising began 18 months ago.

The regime's verbal attack appeared to be prompted by Mashaal's decision to take part in a major conference Sunday of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party. Erdogan has been one of Assad's sharpest critics.

Less than two years ago, Syria, Iran, Hamas and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group were part of what they called an "axis of resistance" against Israel and the U.S. With Hamas' departure, they lost a major Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip.

Hamas initially staked out a neutral position toward the uprising, but as the estimated 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria became increasingly outraged over the regime's brutal crackdown on protesters, Hamas came under pressure for its cozy ties with the government, prompting the group in February to shift its stance and praise Syrians for "moving toward democracy and reform."

Since then, most Hamas leaders have left Syria for Egypt, where their allies in the Muslim Brotherhood have taken power in elections following the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has been a strong critic of Assad, calling his government an "oppressive regime."

Mashaal himself shuttered Hamas' Damascus offices and now spends most of his time in Qatar, the tiny Gulf country that has strongly backed the rebels battling to overthrow Assad.

In its editorial, Syrian state TV sought to remind Mashaal, who holds Jordanian citizenship, of when he was expelled from Jordan in 1999 for "illicit and harmful" activities, and how several countries refused to welcome him after he was kicked out.

"Remember when you were a refugee aboard planes. Damascus came and gave you mercy," the station said. "No one wanted to shake your hand then, as if you had rabies."

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