Damascus: The Syrian regime has hosted Hamas in Damascus since 1999, when the group was expelled from Jordan. However, when the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad regime began two years ago, Hamas found itself caught between its loyalty to the regime that took it in and obligations to its Palestinian supporters, who overwhelmingly sided with the Syrian opposition.

Furthermore, Sunni Hamas risked angering the predominantly Sunni opposition in Syria by standing beside the regime that is drawn from the Alawite sect, a heterodox Shiite sect, and supported by Iran and Hezbollah.

According to a Western analyst who has close contacts with the Hamas leadership, Khalid Mesha’al, the political leader of Hamas, attempted in August 2011 to persuade Al Assad to follow a political path to end the crisis, and offered a series of suggestions. “He, Al Assad, was intrigued by the Hamas program, which included reconciliation, the call for open elections — after which Al Assad would step down — an exchange of prisoners, a national plebiscite on a new constitution — seven steps in all,” the analyst says, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of his contacts with the Hamas leadership.

Al Assad apparently told Hamas that he liked the seven recommendations and said he would consult with his close aides on how to implement them. “Twenty-four hours after submitting the paper, however, the Hamas political leadership was told that the government had decided to go in another direction. It was at that point that Hamas decided that it would leave Damascus,” the analyst says.

According to a report last week in Kuwait’s Al Rai Al Aam newspaper, Mesha’al enlisted the support of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in persuading Al Assad to follow a political path. The report cited a source as describing Al Assad as “arrogant and inexperienced” and solely responsible for the crisis by rejecting a political solution.

According to the Western analyst, some members of the Hamas leadership initially preferred to remain in Damascus, among them Hamas political chief Khalid Mesha’al’s deputy, Mousa Abu Marzouk. But Abu Marzouk apparently changed his mind in October 2011, while driving to Damascus airport for a trip to Cairo. “Inadvertently, his convoy came across a pile of bodies, the result of fighting by the Syrian Army. The grim spectacle stunned Marzouk,” the analyst says.

Mesha’al quietly departed Damascus in February 2012 and moved to Qatar. That same month, Esmail Haniyah, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, openly declared the movement’s support for the Syrian opposition, lauding their struggle to achieve “freedom, democracy, and reform.”

The Al Assad regime responded by raiding offices and homes of top Hamas officials and seizing cars and equipment belonging to the absent Mesha’al. The state-run media accused him of being “ungrateful and treacherous.” In August 2012, a mid-ranking Hamas official in Damascus was shot dead in his home, an act that Hamas publicly blamed on Israel, although there was speculation that agents of the Al Assad regime committed the murder.

On April 3, following Mesha’al’s reelection as head of Hamas’ political wing for a fifth term, Ath-Thawra, a Syrian regime newspaper, said that he had shifted “the gun from the shoulder of resistance to the shoulder of compromise.” Mesha’al “cannot believe his luck. After an acclaimed history of struggle, he has returned to the safe Qatari embrace, wealthy, fattened in the age of the Arab Spring’s storms,” it said.

— Christian Science Monitor