Hamas and their role in Israel-Palestine clashes

Explained | What is Hamas? What's their role in Palestine?

Hamas is an Islamist political, militant organisation founded to 'liberate Palestine'

Israeli air raids in the Gaza Strip have hit the homes of high-ranking members of the Hamas militant group, the IDF said. Credit: AFP Photo

Over the past few days of escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine, Hamas, a militant organisation, has come to the limelight once again. They claim to have launched several rocket attacks on Israel as retaliation for incidents in East Jerusalem and offensive action from Israeli Defence Forces.

What is Hamas?

Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, or Hamas for short, is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic militant organisation with a significant presence in the Gaza strip to the west of Israel. The organisation has two wings -- Dawah, the social service wing, and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the military wing.

What is Hamas's history?

In 1987, riots and protests broke out against the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and pockets within Israel in what is known as the First Intifada. The Hamas back then was in its nascent stages as a breakaway faction of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The co-founder of the organisation, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, revealed that Hamas aimed to 'liberate Palestine' from Israeli occupation from the geographical area, including Israel, West Bank and the Gaza strip. Hamas has since varied on finer details of its stance, including accepting a truce if Israel followed certain conditions.

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How is their relationship with Israel?

Israel and Hamas have been at loggerheads ever since the inception of the organisation. Hamas has attacked Israeli civilians using homemade and short-range rockets, mortar shelling and other arms. Often, these attacks have been termed retaliatory for Israeli actions against the leadership of Hamas and making fresh settlements in Palestinian territory. Both actors have fought three wars since Hamas took over control of Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. An informal truce came about after regional powers and international actors influenced both entities.

Does Hamas have international support?

Hamas won majority seats in the Palestinian Parliament in 2006 and the government since, leading to cutting off of financial assistance from the UN, US, Russia and European Union after Hamas rejected conditions of non-violence and recognition of Israel as a State. Foreign support for Hamas is fragmented as some countries including Iran, Syria, Qatar and Turkey are known to be supportive, whilst the US, EU and Japan label them as terrorist organisation. New Zealand, UK and Australia are among the countries that only list the military wing as a terrorist organisation.

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What is Hamas's role in the recent escalation of violence?

In the recent flare-up between Israel and Palestine, Hamas has launched several rocket attacks in which at least two Israelis have died, whilst Israel’s attacks have killed over 35 Gazans. This is mainly attributed to the homemade nature of Hamas’s rockets, making it less effective, and Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system that repels rocket attacks.

Hamas has called for an intifada, or uprising, on the lines of the protests and riots of yesteryears with unrest spreading from Jerusalem to Gaza, most parts of the West Bank and Arab cities in Israel.

One of the triggers for the latest eruption is the threat of eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers for over a month in Jerusalem. This led to protests and clashes with the police.

The al-Aqsa mosque, which is considered a holy site sacred for Muslims and Jews, has been the focal point of the recent escalation.