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Report: Hamas seeks 'soft exit' from Syria

Dec. 7, 2011 9:31 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 9, 2011 2:45 P.M.)
NEW YORK (Ma'an) -- Hamas has ordered the departure of nearly all its staff at its Damascus headquarters by next week following pressure from Turkey and Qatar, a US newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a Hamas official saying the two regional US allies were trying to isolate Syrian President Bashar Assad amid an eight-month crackdown on antiregime protests.

Hamas will establish new headquarters in Cairo and Qatar to replace its operations in Syria, the official told the Journal, apparently on the condition of anonymity.

Because the Islamist movement has a policy of neutrality in dealing with the violence between Assad, a key Hamas supporter, and pro-democracy protesters, members are making a "soft exit," the daily reported.

A Hamas security official was quoted as saying that 90 percent of the party's headquarters staff will be dispersed to cities around the region, leaving behind only a small presence in Damascus.

According to the report, Hamas has for months been slowly "divesting" itself of Syrian assets. These include business investments, real estate and bank deposits, according to the quoted official.

"Qatar and Turkey urged us to leave Syria immediately," a senior Hamas security official in Gaza is quoted as saying. "They said, 'Have you no shame? It's enough. You have to get out.'"

Hamas has denied in recent weeks it is planning to move the Damascus headquarters, dismissing various reports of plans to relocate to Cairo or other, more stable Arab capitals.

'Dozens' quietly depart Syria for Gaza

On Monday, Reuters quoted diplomats saying dozens of Hamas operatives quietly returned to Gaza as the ruling party in the coastal strip scaled back its presence in Syria in light of Assad's uncertain future.

The Hamas delegation in Damascus, which once numbered hundreds of Palestinian officials and their relatives, has shrunk to a few dozen, according to the diplomatic sources.

Departures were sped up, one regional intelligence source said, by the Arab League's suspension of Syria last month over its military crackdown on protests rocking the Assad government.

Diplomats said dozens of Hamas members and their families, who had lived in Syria since the 1990s, and others who moved there in recent years, have returned to Gaza via Egypt in recent weeks.

Hamas would keep a skeletal presence in Syria to "book a seat in a post-Assad era," one diplomat said.

"Meanwhile, Hamas officials are on planes most of the time, bolstering ties with other countries like Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Sudan, or in contact to explore new bases and not a sole base," the diplomat added.

Asking not to be identified, the diplomat said: "Hamas will pull out of Syria in the right time but not for good."
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