GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamist militant group Hamas, which has ruled Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since 2007, is coming under increasing fire — not from its avowed enemy Israel, but from former allies, human rights groups and even its own citizens.
Meanwhile, its chief cause — the creation of a Palestinian state — has been almost forgotten amid the post-Arab Spring turmoil in the Middle East, with the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, the deepening civil war in Syria and growing violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq.
“The Middle East is divided as it never has been before along Sunni-Shiite lines. That’s the primary conflict that everyone is focused on,” said Joshua M. Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, referring to Islam’s two primary sects.
On Tuesday, Syria’s state-run TV called Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal an ungrateful traitor for turning his back on Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime has been cracking down on protest for the past 18 months.
Early this year, Mr. Meshaal moved Hamas‘ headquarters from the Syrian capital, Damascus, to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in part to respond to Palestinians decrying the ever-mounting death toll in Syria’s civil war.
Hamas, a mostly Sunni organization that advocates resistance against Israel to ensure Palestinian autonomy, had support from the Shiite-dominant regimes in Iran and Syria. The Assad regime is run by the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“Now that Hamas has been forced to abandon Syria and find a new benefactor in the [Persian] Gulf, where they are going to be asked to abandon their resistance stance, [that puts Hamas] in a very difficult position,” he added. “They are going through an identity crisis.”
The Iranian connection
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday issued a 43-page report documenting Hamas security forces’ rampant abuses against Palestinian prisoners, including beatings with metal clubs and rubber hoses, mock executions and arbitrary arrests, the Associated Press reported.
“There is ample evidence that Hamas security services are torturing people in custody with impunity and denying prisoners their rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for the New York-based group. “The Gaza authorities should stop ignoring the abuse and ensure that the justice system respects Palestinians’ rights.”
The international rights group said it based its report on interviews with Gazans who had been abused, their families and attorneys, as well as a review of case files and court rulings.
Human Rights Watch’s report isn’t the first to detail Hamas abuses. The Independent Commission for Human Rights last year documented scores of human rights abuses in Gaza.