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Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (second left) receiving the leader of Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, Ziad Al Nakhala (right), Hamas chief of Arab relations, Khalil Al Hayya (second right) and secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Talal Naji (left), in Damascus, on October 19, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

DAMASCUS: Palestinian movement Hamas on Wednesday said it restored relations with the Syrian government after a visiting delegation held a “historic meeting” with President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus.

The Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, was long one of Syria’s closest allies, in large part due to a shared enmity towards Israel.

But it left Syria in 2012 after condemning the Al Assad government’s suppression of protests in March 2011, which triggered the country’s descent into civil war.

“This is a glorious and important day, in which we come back to our dear Syria to resume joint work,” Hamas chief of Arab relations Khalil Al Hayya told reporters in Damascus.

“This is a new start for joint Palestinian-Syrian action,” he said after meeting with Al Assad along with other representatives of Palestinian factions.

Hamas and [Al] Assad have agreed to “move on from the past and look to the future,” Al Hayya added.

By restoring ties with Damascus, Hamas cements its role within the “axis of resistance” against its arch-enemy Israel, analysts said, an Iran dominated alliance that extends to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Hamas’ move formalises a rapprochement that has been underway for some time and comes amid fundamental changes in Middle East relationships, including the Islamists’ long-time ally Turkey restoring full diplomatic ties with Israel in August.

Wednesday’s meeting with Al Assad “is in line with the broader rapprochement between Hezbollah and Hamas evident in Lebanon over the past year or more,” said Maha Yahya of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Al Hayya said there was consensus among Hamas leadership and supporters over the resumption of ties with Syria - a move also backed by the Palestinian group’s foreign sponsors.

“All the states we notified of our decision were welcoming and supportive of the move, including Qatar and Turkey, who encouraged us to take the step,” Al Hayya said.

Turkey supports rebels against the Damascus government in Syria’s civil war, but has lately signalled a willingness to reconcile.

‘Too early’

The two-day Hamas visit to Syria comes after the Islamist group signed a reconciliation deal with its Palestinian rival Fatah in Algiers last week, vowing to hold elections by next October in a bid to settle a 15-year intra-Palestinian rift.

A Hamas leader told AFP that the group, which was headquartered in the Syrian capital before leaving the country, plans to reopen its Damascus office.

But it was “too early” to talk about relocating its headquarters to the Syrian capital, said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The thaw between Hamas and Damascus was brokered by Tehran and Hezbollah, a senior Hamas source said.

For the past decade, Syrian officials had accused Hamas of betrayal.

In a 2013 speech, Al Assad had accused Palestinian groups he did not identify of treating the country like a “hotel” that they leave “when conditions are tough” in a thinly-veiled reference to Hamas.

Hamas has its origins in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, whose Syrian branch was one of the leading factions in the armed opposition after Syria’s civil war broke out.

Hamas officials have said they broke ties with the Brotherhood in 2017.