Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)
Hamas is an acronym for Harakat Al-Mouqawama Al-Islamiyya meaning ‘enthusiasm’ or ‘zeal’. It is an Islamic, political and religious movement, founded as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood shortly after the outbreak of the First Intifada in January 1988. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was the co-founder and spiritual leader alongside Abdel Aziz Rantisi, its main spokesperson. Hamas, during its preliminary stages was tolerated, if not encouraged, by Israeli authorities as counteracting force against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). It has never been a member of the PLO and has carried out its activities independently from the United National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU) during the First Intifada.
The Hamas Covenant, published in August 1988, proclaims Jihad or armed struggle against Israel. It advocates an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine and calls for the application of Sharia Law in this region. Hamas has founded and successfully implemented an extensive social service network. It gained popularity among masses due to its charitable efforts such as free provision of education and health services. Hamas has claimed responsibility for many attacks on Israeli targets, most of which has been carried out by its military wing the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas strongly opposed the Oslo Accords and led the alliance of rejectionist Palestinian forces that opposed the peace process. Hamas boycotted the Palestinian elections of January 1996 as well as the January 2005 presidential elections. On March 19, 2005 Hamas and twelve other political organizations signed the Cairo Declaration with Fateh. This declaration committed the factions and their armed affiliates to a ceasefire, tahdiaa, until the end of 2005. Additionally, the leadership was required to conduct local and legislative elections without further delay. This allowed Hamas to participate in the municipal elections of 2005, in which it gained political control of Beit Lahia and Rafah in the occupied Gaza Strip, and Qalqilyah in the occupied West Bank. In the January 2006 legislative elections Hamas won majority of the seats defeating its main rival Fateh. In its election manifesto Hamas omitted its call for the destruction of Israel and called instead for “the establishment of an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem.”
After the formation of the Hamas cabinet on March 20, 2006, tensions between Fateh and Hamas militants escalated in Gaza. Demonstrations by both parties led to inter-factional violence. Repeated attempts were made to establish a truce. Finally on June 27, 2006 Hamas and Fateh reached an agreement, which included the formation of a national unity government. On February 8, 2007 Hamas and Fateh signed a deal to end factional warfare. In spite of the agreement, fighting renewed in June. On June 14, 2007 President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government and dismissed its prime minister, Ismail Hanieh. This split the PA territorially. Hamas controlled occupied Gaza, with Ismail Hanieh as acting prime minister and Fateh controlled occupied West Bank. On March 28, 2008 in Yemen, the Hamas and Fateh leaders signed the “Sana’a Declaration”, according to which they agreed to resume conciliatory talks.
On June 18, 2008 Israel announced a bilateral ceasefire with Hamas. The agreement was reached after talks were conducted in the presence of Egyptian mediators in Cairo. As part of the ceasefire Israel agreed to resume limited commercial shipping across its border with Gaza, provided there was no breakdown of the tentative peace deal, and Hamas hinted that it would discuss the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in a cross border raid in 2006.
Since Sheikh Ahmad Yassin’s assassination, Hamas has been led by Ismail Hanieh, the acting prime minister in Gaza. Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the organization lives in exile in Syria.