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OPINION: What is Hamas, the Palestinian group at war with Israel?

The Palestinian group Hamas launched a surprise attack from Gaza into Israel on Oct. 7, triggering an Israel-Hamas war that marked the most serious escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in many years.

 

WHAT IS HAMAS?

Hamas, an acronym of an Arabic phrase meaning Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded in 1987 during the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. It was created by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation established in Egypt in the 1920s.

It is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, European Union, Canada, Egypt and Japan.

WHAT DOES HAMAS WANT TO ACHIEVE?

Hamas wants all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, which includes the modern state of Israel as well as the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It refuses to recognise Israel, and violently opposed the Oslo peace accords negotiated by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the mid-1990s.

Hamas’s 1988 founding charter called for the destruction of Israel, although Hamas leaders have at times offered a long-term truce, or Hudna in Arabic, with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state on all Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel regards this as a ruse.

HOW DID HAMAS COME TO POWER?

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since 2007, after a brief civil war with forces loyal to the Fatah movement led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank and heads the more secular PLO.

The Hamas takeover of Gaza followed its win in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 – the last time they were held. Hamas accused Abbas of conspiring against it. Abbas described what happened as a coup.

Since then, there have been numerous rounds of conflict with Israel, often involving Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes and bombardment of Gaza.

WHO ARE THE HAMAS MILITANTS?

Hamas has an armed wing called the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, which has sent gunmen and suicide bombers into Israel and fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells. Hamas characterizes its armed activities as resistance against Israeli occupation.

Hamas’ military wing is highly secretive and is run by Mohammed Deif, who masterminded the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. It has bases all over Gaza, but also members across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and farther afield. Many of its leaders and fighters are now thought to be concealed in a huge underground network of tunnels beneath Gaza awaiting Israel’s assault by ground forces.

WHO IS FUNDING HAMAS?

Although a Sunni Muslim group, Hamas is part of a regional alliance comprising Iran, Syria and the Shi’ite Islamist group Hezbollah in Lebanon, which all broadly oppose U.S. policy in the Middle East and Israel. It has received money, weapons and training from Iran, but also has a fund-raising network around the globe.

While its power base is in Gaza, Hamas also has supporters across the Palestinian territories, and it has leaders spread across the Middle East in countries including Qatar.

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