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Syria Berates Hamas Chief, An Old Ally, On State TV

posted Oct 2, 2012, 4:26 PM by Syrian Transition
02 Oct 2012 (New York Times) State television in Syria issued a withering attack late Monday on a longtime ally, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Khaled Meshal, addressing him as if he were an ungrateful child, saying he was having a “romantic emotional crisis” over the Syrian uprising and accusing him of selling out “resistance for power.”

The extraordinary reproof, a departure from the blander tone of most Syrian official statements, was the government’s first broadside against Hamas since the organization distanced itself from the embattled President Bashar al-Assad this year, when most Hamas leaders left their refuge in Damascus and shuttered their office there.

The attack was a television editorial delivered by a newscaster in alternately stern and mocking tones, who reminded Mr. Meshal that he was “orphaned” by Arab countries who would not take him in when he fled Jordan in 1999. She implied that he must have sold out to Israel, saying that was the only explanation for the willingness of Qatar, his new host, to accept him.

Damascus seemed to be striking back after Mr. Meshal appeared at a congress of the party of Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and after Mr. Erdogan and Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, pointedly declared their shared priorities of opposing Mr. Assad and supporting the Palestinians — a blow to Mr. Assad’s longstanding and domestically compelling persona as the champion of Palestinian resistance against Israel.

Hamas did not immediately respond to the attack on Mr. Meshal, who recently announced plans to step down from the group’s helm. But at the party congress on Sunday in Ankara, after praising Syria’s uprising, Mr. Meshal declared, according to The Associated Press, “There is no contradiction in our adoption of democracy and reform, and our support of the resistance.”

Damascus is likely particularly furious that Mr. Meshal has taken up residence in Qatar, one of the countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, that it accuses of bankrolling the insurgency.

Syria, Iran, the Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah, and Hamas long considered themselves an “axis of resistance,” in contrast to Arab countries — notably Egypt — that pursued a more accommodationist policy with Israel and the United States. But relations in the axis have teetered as some of Syrian’s Palestinians have joined the uprising and as some Hamas officials find it impossible not to sympathize with fellow Sunni Muslims in Syria, who form the bulk of the anti-Assad movement and have borne the brunt of Mr. Assad’s brutal crackdown.

But Hezbollah remains a steadfast ally, although it has denied allegations by domestic opponents and the United States that it has aided in Syria’s crackdown. On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s Web site reported that a senior commander in the group, Ali Hussein Nassif, had died carrying out “jihadist duties.” A Lebanese security official told The A.P. that Mr. Nassif died in Syria. It was unclear whether he was fighting alongside Syrian forces.

The verbal assault on Mr. Meshal came amid a Damascus public relations offensive of sorts, hours after Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the United Nations General Assembly that Syria’s 18-month uprising was a terrorist movement being financed by the United States and its allies to weaken Syria, and that Syrians who had fled the country had been manipulated by Syria’s neighbors in a coldhearted plot for those countries to demand foreign aid.

Nearly 300,000 Syrians have sought sanctuary in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and the United Nations refugee agency has called the outflow a major humanitarian problem that could destabilize the region.

On Tuesday, in a speech to Syria’s Parliament, the country’s prime minister, Wael al-Halki, asserted that the world was punishing Syria for its resistance to the United States and Israel, and doubled down on the government’s response to the crisis, saying that the army was the only guarantee of the Syria’s safety and integrity and that Parliament supported its measures against the crisis.

He did not discuss the desperate flow of Syrians into other countries, but acknowledged that there were more than 600,000 internally displaced people (the United Nations counts more than double that), blaming “terrorists” for the crisis.

Finally, the Parliament speaker, Muhammad Jihad Allaham, denounced the anti-Islamic film with shrouded origins in the United States that set off violent anti-Western protests in several Muslim countries. His statement appeared to be the latest instance of conspicuously incongruous solicitude toward Muslims from the steadfastly secular government as it struggles to maintain popular support during the uprising that opponents estimate has taken 30,000 lives.

The newscaster who delivered the rebuke to Mr. Meshal also castigated Egypt and Turkey for what she said was their complicity in the Palestinians’ plight.

At certain points her tone became downright snide: “Meshal, since you are having a romantic emotional crisis over what you call the suffering of the Syrian people,” the newscaster said, “why didn’t the Palestinian people elicit the same emotional reaction?”

She recalled how Syria defied other powers to grant him refuge in 1999. “The plane that was carrying him was sent back from the skies of airports as if he was the plague,” she intoned. “Doha and Ankara and Amman and Cairo all evaded him that day because Israel had vetoed his reception, and no one dared to defy this veto except Damascus.”

Addressing him directly, she continued, “The only possible interpretation for their sudden welcoming attitude today is that you are no longer wanted by the occupation” — referring to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories — “and no longer a threat to their safety.”

She offered a barely veiled “good riddance.”

“Syria is not regretful because it didn’t do what it did expecting loyalty or thanks,” she said, adding, “Syria is happy that the person who sold resistance for power is leaving it now.”

The editorial also took shots at Turkey’s bid to become a regional leader and champion of the Palestinian cause.

For the Turks — who have been major allies of the Syrian insurgency, providing a haven for its fighters — that role is “too big” for them to handle, the newscaster warned. “The Turkishization of the resistance is read in the Arabic language as your complete abandonment of it.”

“Meshal, remember that fire needs authentic oil or the smoke will blind eyes. And the authentic oil for the fire of resistance is distinctly Syrian, Palestinian, Arab.”