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Mashaal 'won't return to Syria'
Published Friday 27/01/2012 (updated) 29/01/2012 09:44
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Syrian soldiers, who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army, hold up their
rifles and wave Syrian independence flags, during a protest against Syria's
President Bashar Assad in Khalidieh, near Homs Jan. 26. (Reuters/Stringer)

GAZA (Reuters) -- Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal, has effectively abandoned his headquarters in the Syrian capital, Damascus, diplomatic and intelligence sources said on Friday.

"Mashaal is not staying in Syria as he used to do. He is almost out all the time," said a diplomat in the region who spoke on condition on anonymity.

A regional intelligence source, who also did not wish to be identified, said: "He's not going back to Syria. That's the decision he's made. There's still a Hamas presence there, but it's insignificant."

Damascus is isolated following a bloody, 10-month uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad and is not secure, the diplomat said, adding that Mashaal was no longer able to receive international visitors there.

Analysts say Mashaal was also embarrassed by Assad's violent crackdown, with more than 5,000 people reported killed. Many victims of the security forces have been Sunni Muslims allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose support Mashaal relies on.

Assad is backed mainly by his minority Alawite sect and other minorities.

The sources said Mashaal would not publicly shut down the political headquarters of Hamas in Syria, where it has long been hosted by Assad and by his father before him.

"In the past month he may have only stayed five days in Syria and the rest he spent in Qatar, Turkey and Egypt," said the diplomat. "But he did not close the headquarters in Syria in full and there are some Hamas officials still there."

"Our belief is that Hamas will not announce a departure from Syria even if it happened," the diplomat added.

The sources said Mashaal was currently in Egypt. But "there was no agreement to open an office in Cairo. Not yet," said the diplomat. "The expected residence for Mashaal is Qatar where he may stay most of the time until the Syria smoke has cleared."

Qatar is the Arab world's most outspoken critic of Assad. Qatari mediation was helpful in arranging Mashaal's upcoming visit to Jordan next week, restoring ties with the monarchy more than a decade after Hamas was ejected from the kingdom.

Hamas, founded in 1987 and regarded by Israel and the West as a terrorist organization, has long been backed by Iran, a strong ally of Syria's Assad. But funding has apparently stalled in the past four months, the diplomat said.

"Iran used to give $250 million to $300 million to Hamas but there have been interruptions in the payments in past year. Our understanding is that there has been no payment since August 2011," he said.

Hamas Gaza Strip leader Ismail Haniyeh was thought to have "received promises from Turkey to provide the movement and his administration with $300 million a year to help Gaza."

Gaza Foreign Minister Muhammad Awad on Friday denied Israeli media reports that his government receives an annual payment of millions of dollars from the Turkish government.

"We don't have any information about annual payments from Turkey," Awad told Ma'an.

Turkey is also a strong critic of the crackdown by Assad in its southern neighbor, Syria. Haniyeh is scheduled to travel to Iran in the coming days.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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1 ) RT / JORDAN
27/01/2012 18:01
that is the most infantile article i have yet to read on ma'an news site.. have you people got only the reuters and americans to write your articles.. we all know hes moving to egypt.or are you waiting while everybody but hamas or syria tell you otherwise..

2 ) Robert Haymond / Israel/Canada
27/01/2012 21:04
Excellent analysis of the political and economic problems now faced by Hamas in Ynetnews entitled "Hamas in deep trouble" by Guy Bechor.

3 ) southparkbear / usa
27/01/2012 23:26
turkey ? hum? is that the genocide loving country?

4 ) southparkbear / usa
28/01/2012 05:55
Robert, the article paint it relative in pink color. the situation is much worse. Arab world is in turmoil, iran is poor, iraq is rich in blood to avenge, Egypt soon will go back 40-60 year when subsidies are reduced and niles basic countries break away from the 1929 agreement

5 ) Jakel / USA
28/01/2012 07:07
Sure, he can abandon his post and leave his comrades behind to face the wrath of the Syrian Free Army. They are expendable.

6 ) Ajibola Hasan / Nigeria
28/01/2012 09:49
Mashall should think deeply before decide to cut relation between Syria. To having a cordial relation with Qatar is very dangerous because Qatar is Saudi Arabia boy.

7 ) EE / UK
28/01/2012 14:53
It will be interesting to see if Turkey likes palestinians more then Armenians, Kurds, Greeks or Cypriots. And 6 from Nigeria - Qatar is not a boy, but a girl.
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