Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Report: Syria and Hamas are changing!

This report has too many anonymous aspects, including the author, to be fully believable, but it should not be ignored.  
Middle East
     May 7, 2009
Hamas feels the heat from Syria
By a Special Correspondent
As relations between Syria and leading Western countries continue to coalesce, Damascus is set to take a major step in casting off its tag as a sponsor of terrorism.
News has emerged that Hamas' political leadership, based in Damascus, is to be asked to cease public statements and, over time, leave Syria. A source in the Syrian capital said this week that Damascus is keen to be seen as complying with demands from Washington and European capitals, while reiterating that Hamas and Fatah must work to unite to strengthen the position of the common Palestinian cause.
"Damascus is beginning to view itself as a genuine power-broker in the region," said the source, who also mentioned the possibility of Khartoum, Sudan, being proposed as a new base for the Hamas leader. "It sees moving out Hamas as a legitimate move in that it can push the Arab-Israeli peace process forward by putting pressure on Hamas to mend ties with Fatah by presenting a united front against Israel ahead of any possible negotiations."
The source, who cannot be named for security reasons, said a serious precedent was to be expected. "Hamas has been asked to tone down its public statements from Damascus [something Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal and others had been doing, particularly during and after Israel's recent military offensive on Gaza] and eventually move out."
"But this is not going to happen within the coming weeks; it could take a year or more."
Hamas' issues
A report in the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper last September stated that Meshaal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau, was to leave Damascus for Khartoum for security reasons. In addition, the Syrian ambassador to the United States reportedly said that once a peace accord was reached between Syria and Israel, the Palestinian factions would have to go. Meshaal sought refuge in Syria after being poisoned in Amman, Jordan, apparently by Israeli Mossad agents in September 1997. Hamas has been under intense pressure to tone down its rhetoric, and now Syria has added its voice.
Furthermore, reports say divisions between Hamas factions based in Damascus and Gaza have taken place and that the "Gaza Hamas faction" failed to persuade its Damascus counterparts to accept the terms of an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire with Israel in January. The Damascus bureau was said to have ordered the continuation of rocket attacks and resistance at the end of the three-week war.
But like Damascus, Hamas seems to softening. In an interview with the New York Times published on May 4, Meshaal said, "I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period."
The article also mentioned how only six rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel from Gaza in the month of April, and Meshaal noted that rockets had stopped firing "for now".
Syria's ambitions
Damascus has come into America's sphere of interest for several reasons. Firstly, the administration of President Barack Obama wants to push forward toward a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict and, whether its likes it or not, it must engage Syria. Secondly, Washington wants Syria to police its border with Iraq more extensively (the Wall Street Journal recently reported that US officials believed a Tunisian who carried out a suicide attack in Baghdad passed through the Syrian border), and lastly, to relinquish its close ties to Tehran, as Washington attempts to isolate Iran.
In return, Syria wants to develop its stagnant economy by attracting foreign investment and taking advantage of a glut of world-class historical sites in its backyard. With a six-year drought taking its toll, peace with Israel based on the return of the Golan Heights would provide it with an important source of water: peace (and the Golan, naturally) is something the Damascus government wants.
It hopes such attention based on trade relations and improved political ties with Europe and America will help achieve its ongoing domestic goals. With a half dozen international banks having sprung up on the streets of major cities here, in addition to a tempered easing of sanctions since Obama's inauguration in January, early signs show Syria's plan seems to be working.
Trying to serve two masters?
In March, a Rome newspaper quoted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as saying that Syria and the US were 80% in agreement over several issues and that he was "ready to mediate with Iran", but added, "For now, I have only received an invitation to play a role ... We need a plan, rules and specific mechanisms to bring to Tehran."
Progress is steadily moving forward with the announcement that Jeffrey Feltman and Dan Shapiro, two of Obama's top Middle East hands, are expected to visit Damascus for a second time since March in the coming weeks. The Wall Street Journal quoted US State Department officials as saying "the first round of negotiations ... developed common ideas between Damascus and Washington, and now they are hoping to put these strategies into operation."
While Washington's fear of Tehran has been well crafted over the years and will not dissipate anytime soon, since January its tone has changed out of recognition. As a result, Syria's readiness to act as an intermediary between the US and Iran and to draw down on Hamas, a position its unique arrangement lends itself to, could lead to an important step in getting past two issues of major international concern.
Until now, standing with Iran and Hamas has made Syria much sought after. For now it can argue to be working to support the wider Palestinian cause and its own political and economic goals by "repositioning" its relationship with Hamas and ceding to Washington's demands.
Even if the Syrian government is not quite sure where it is going - how much it wants better relations with the West and at what cost to its existing relationships with Hamas and Iran - it seems Assad is finally beginning to show his cards. With the right diplomacy, he can attempt to play both sides, but at some stage it seems likely Syria will have to choose between Hamas and the Western capitals bearing markets, investors and tourists.
For personal security reasons, the writer of this article cannot be named.
(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

1 comment:

loser said...

It is unfortunate that the author chose not to leave his or her name. This is both an interesting and pertinent article, and I believe that it would be vital for many people to read. However, given the associated variability and untrustoworthyness of the namelessness, there is no way to reproduce or publicise this information in a logical, practical way.