What is Hamas? Who supports Hamas? What you should know | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW
In the past, many German media have called Hamas a radical Islamist organization. More recently, however, as fighting between Israel and Gaza resumes, the media have branded Hamas an Islamist terrorist group. A majority of Western governments, including the European Union and the United States, have classified it as a terrorist organization. Norway and Switzerland are notable exceptions. Both adopt a strictly neutral position and maintain diplomatic relations with the organization that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Hamas uses secret tunnels to smuggle goods into Gaza and approach Israel to fire rockets
A brief history of Hamas
Hamas was founded in the 1980s and has opposed the late Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since its inception. Some claim that the Israeli government helped fund early Hamas to act as a counterweight to the PLO – although all of those involved deny that Israel played a role in creating the organization.
Unlike the PLO, Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Its emblem represents the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the outline of the territory of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as a single Palestinian state.
In 1993, Arafat made peace with Israel within the context of the Oslo accords, ending the first intifada, which began in 1987. Hamas rejected the peace process and continued its terrorist attacks against Israel.
Hamas broke Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat deal
In 2006, Hamas won an absolute majority in the general elections in Gaza. In 2007, he strengthened his hold on the coastal enclave with a violent coup. Since then, the West Bank has been controlled by the moderate Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas, while Gaza has remained under Hamas control.
Hamas has continued its war against Israel from the Gaza Strip, claiming it is acting in “self-defense”. The organization engaged in heavy fighting against the Israeli armed forces in 2008/09, 2012 and 2014.
What is the situation in the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated territories in the world. Its tightly controlled land borders with Israel and Egypt, as well as its maritime border, have largely isolated its economy. Much of Gaza’s population lives in extreme poverty and depends on humanitarian aid from abroad.
Hamas often fires rockets at Israel from residential areas and operates command posts in apartment buildings. The practice does use civilians as human shields. Hamas secretly dug underground tunnels to smuggle weapons into the enclave, mostly from Egypt. The Egyptian government, however, has cracked down on this activity.
Who supports Hamas?
Qatar is Hamas’s largest donor and foreign ally. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the first head of state to visit the Hamas government in 2012. So far, the emirate has transferred 1.5 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) to Hamas. Israel, meanwhile, is hoping that Qatar will join the Abrahamic agreements brokered by the United States and establish diplomatic relations with it, as a number of Arab states have already done.
Hamas is also supported by Turkey. In talks just before Hamas launched rocket attacks against Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed political support for his leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backs Hamas
The organization is also supported by a series of initiatives and non-state foundations, some of which are based in Germany. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, donations to Hamas from groups based in Germany are increasing.
Where does Hamas get its rockets from?
The number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel has reached an unprecedented level in recent days. On Tuesday, Hamas said it launched 130 rockets within minutes in an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. The Iron Dome’s interceptor missiles are much more agile, advanced, and as expensive as Hamas’s rockets.
On Friday, the IDF reported that more than 1,800 rockets had been launched from the Palestinian coastal enclave.
For many years Hamas relied on rockets supplied by Iran. Fabian Hinz, an expert in missile technology in the Middle East, told German public broadcaster ZDF that various Gaza-based groups have expanded their rocket arsenals. He said they had thousands of missiles, as confirmed by Israeli media.
This week, Jerusalem post quoted from Israeli intelligence sources which estimated that Hamas’ arsenal contained 5,000 to 6,000 rockets. The militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which cooperates with Hamas, is said to have stored 8,000 additional rockets.
Hinz said Iranian rockets were smuggled into Gaza via Sudan and then Egypt. Since the ousting of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, however, this has become more difficult. It is believed that with outside help, Hamas is now producing most of its rockets in the coastal enclave.
This article was adapted from German by Benjamin Restle.