Who are Hamas?

 “(CNN) — Four years after the last major conflict in the region, Israel and Hamas are once again on the brink of war in Gaza. So what is the group, and what does it hope to achieve by its rocket attacks on Israeli targets?

What is Hamas?

Hamas is a militant fundamentalist Islamic organization operating in the West Bank and Gaza. The name Hamas is an acronym for “Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia,” or Islamic Resistance Movement in English. The word “hamas” means zeal in Arabic.

Hamas has sections dedicated to religious, military, political and security activities. It runs a social welfare program, and operates a number of schools, hospitals and religious institutions. It also has about 12,500 security personnel.

What are its aims?

Hamas’s goal is an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state. Its original manifesto advocated the destruction of the state of Israel, and called for the raising of “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

Current Hamas president Khaled Meshaal has previously said the group would support a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders (prior to the Six-Day War, during which Israeli troops occupied Gaza) , with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Hamas’s refusal to recognize the state of Israel is one reason why it’s been excluded from peace talks. In 1993, it opposed the Oslo Accords, a peace pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

 

The group was established in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as an alternative to the PLO. Yassin and other Muslim Brotherhood-linked activists had set up a network of charities, schools and clinics in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

However, the founding charter of Hamas, published in 1988, called for jihad, or holy war, and marked a decisive split with the Muslim Brotherhood‘s philosophy of nonviolence.

The following year, Yassin was convicted by an Israeli court of ordering Hamas members to kidnap and kill two Israeli soldiers. Released from jail in 1997, Yassin was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004.

The group began carrying out suicide bombings on civilian and military Israeli targets in the mid 1990s. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas is believed to have killed more than 500 people in more than 350 separate terrorist attacks since 1993.

What is its role in Gaza?

Hamas operates schools, hospitals and religious institutions, soup kitchens and orphanages in Gaza and the West Bank, and runs an effective social welfare program in the territories, cementing the group’s popularity among Palestinians.

After boycotting elections for many years, Hamas participated in Palestinian parliamentary polls for the first time in 2006. Running as the “Change and Reform Party,” the group won a landslide victory, securing a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Leading Hamas member Ismail Haniya was appointed Palestinian prime minister, but was dismissed the following year when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the government. Haniya, though, rejected Abbas’ actions, and remains the de facto political leader in Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces have accused Hamas of turning the Gaza Strip into “a frontal base for Iran, forcing Israeli citizens to live under unbearable circumstances.”

Israel also accuses Hamas of using civilians in Gaza as a “human shield,” and the territory’s schools and hospitals as a cover for military hardware. “They bury their military infrastructure inside civilian areas,” Israeli spokesman Regev told CNN.

Where does its support stem from?

Hamas has an annual budget of $70 million, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Much of its financial backing comes from expatriate Palestinians, private donors in the Middle East, and Muslim charities in the West.

It receives significant financial aid — as well as arms and training — from Iran. Since its election win in 2006, it has also had public funding. Hamas enjoys widespread support from the general population in Gaza, thanks to its social welfare program. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “[its] efforts in this area — as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption — help to explain its broad popularity.”

What is the international community’s view?

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel, the UK and the European Union. In the wake of the 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict, in which more than 1,400 people were killed, the United Nations’ Goldstone Report found that rocket attacks by Hamas constituted war crimes, and may have amounted to crimes against humanity. (The Goldstone Report also found that Israeli forces had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict.)

Human Rights Watch has accused Hamas authorities in Gaza of war crimes, of violating international humanitarian law, and of meting out cruel and inhuman treatment to detainees.

What is its relationship with Fatah?

Like Hamas, Fatah was once dedicated to launching attacks on Israel. However, Fatah became part of the PLO in the 1960s, and in 1993, Fatah and the PLO renounced violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist.

As a result, Fatah, which controls the West Bank, is considered more moderate, and while Hamas is viewed as a terrorist group, Fatah enjoys the support of Western nations including the U.S.

Fatah and Hamas were estranged for several years after Fatah lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas in 2006. The rift was partially healed when the two groups signed a reconciliation deal in May 2011, linking the one-time rivals in their goal to establish a Palestinian state.

The unity agreement was met with mixed reactions from the international community — former U.S. President Jimmy Carter insisted “the accord could lead to a durable cease-fire.” However, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “a tremendous blow to peace, and a great victory for terrorism.”

 

Article Taken From: CNN

Citation:Jones, Bryony. “Q&A: What Is Hamas? – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/16/world/meast/hamas-explainer/index.html?hpt=hp_c1&gt;.

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