The Palestinian Faction Hamas: A Primer
Since its founding in 1987, Hamas has pursued a dual policy of "armed resistance" against Israel — carried out by suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians — while also extending social-welfare programs to Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. Here, a guide to Hamas' history and its leaders:
Full Name: Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement).
Origins: Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Dr. Abdel Awziz al-Rantissi, both of whom have since been killed by Israel.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political pan-Arab organization with branches throughout the Arab world. In 1988, Hamas wrote its charter, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and swears to "raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." The charter is still in effect today.
However, Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas member Ismail Haniya has spoken of a possible long-term truce with Israel, if Israel withdraws from territory occupied after the 1967 war, namely, the West Bank and Gaza.
On the Ground: Since its founding, Hamas has pursued a dual policy of "armed resistance" against Israel, while extending social-welfare programs to Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
Its armed resistance has been carried out by suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilian buses, nightclubs and other venues. As a result the United States, Israel and the European Union have labeled it a "terrorist organization." Human Rights Watch has also criticized Hamas for its attacks on civilians.
But Hamas' main claim for support among Palestinians comes from its provision of social welfare services that neither the Israelis nor Fatah provide. From its inception, Hamas has funded and developed an elaborate network of schools, orphanages, health clinics and other social services that have given it reach into every sector of its populations.
Elections: On Jan. 25, 2006, Palestinian voters in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem voted for a new Palestinian legislature. Hamas won a major victory, taking 74 of the 132 seats, in an election deemed fair and honest by international observers. Its rival, the once-dominant Fatah party, criticized for ineffectiveness and corruption, took only 45 seats.
The surprise victory gave Hamas control of the Palestinian Government; it also set up a conflict with Israel and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas refuses to accept Israel's right to exist and says it will not honor all pre-existing treaties signed by the Palestinian Authority. In light of that, Israel, with the support of the United States and the European Union, launched a financial boycott. Israel refused to pay the Palestinian Authority its monthly trade taxes (which Israel collects), and Washington has sought to freeze all bank transfers to the Palestine Authority. The results have deprived the authority's 150,000 civil servants of salaries, massive unemployment and bankruptcies.
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