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Leaders: Hamas will sit out if Israel and Iran go to war

- - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

JERUSALEM — The Islamist militant group Hamas would remain on the sidelines if a war broke out between Israel and Iran, according to a British newspaper's interview with a senior Hamas official.

"If there is a war between [the] two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war," Salah Bardawil, a member of Hamas' political leadership, said in an interview with the Guardian. "Hamas is not part of military alliances in the region. Our strategy is to defend our rights."

The newspaper also quoted another Hamas official as saying that the group, which controls the Gaza Strip, "would not get involved" in a war between Israel and Iran.

The deteriorating situation in Syria has soured the relationship between Iran and Hamas, long considered a proxy of the Islamic republic.

Hamas' political leadership, which was based in Damascus, Syria, has moved to other locations since Syria's leadership began its violent crackdown of the opposition.

Iran, which is Syria's principal supporter, retaliated against Hamas by cutting off funding. Iran continues to support Islamic Jihad, a militant group second in size to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

If Hamas were to remove itself from such a regional conflict, the move would benefit Israel, wihch has been planning to face rocket attacks from Gaza and from Hezbollah in Lebanon in a war with Iran.

What's more, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who previously said his militant group would support Iran if it were attacked by Israel, likewise backed away from that commitment this month.

"There is speculation about what would happen if Israel bombed Iran's nuclear facilities," Mr. Nasrallah said in an interview with a Beirut newspaper. "I tell you that the Iranian leadership will not ask Hezbollah to do anything. On that day, we will sit, think and decide what we will do."

His comment might have been aimed at deterring an Israeli attack on Lebanon in the opening of military action against Iran. Israel has warned that it will strike against Hezbollah and infrastructure in Lebanon if it were to go to war with Iran.

The Islamic republic reportedly has supplied Hezbollah with 40,000 rockets and missiles via Syria, making the Lebanese militia a formidable strategic ally for Iran and a deterrent against an Israeli attack.

Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah continues to maintain close relations with Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.