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Middle East

What is Hamas?

by Marco Chown Oved

Article published on the 2008-04-24 Latest update 2008-04-26 06:32 TU

Hundreds of thousands celebrate 20 years of Hamas in Gaza.(Photo : AFP)

Hundreds of thousands celebrate 20 years of Hamas in Gaza.
(Photo : AFP)

The Islamic movement Hamas was elected to government by Palestinians in 2006 but Israel, the US and the European Union say it's a "terrorist organisation" and refuse to talk to its representatives.

Hamas was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin at the beginning of the first intifada (uprising) of Palestinians against Israeli occupation. Its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigades, quickly became well-known for suicide-bombings and other violent forms of opposition to Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

 

Hamas's founding charter called for the destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state encompassing the West Bank, Gaza Strip and what is now Israel.

 

The first intifada finished with the Oslo peace accords in 1993, which created the Palestinian Authority as a provisional government while the details of a final Palestinian state were worked out.

 

Hamas, along with other radical Palestinian groups, opposed the Oslo agreement and refused to take part in elections in 1996. The peace process collapsed and in 2000 a second intifada flared up.

 

Hamas participated in legislative elections in January 2006 and won 74 of the 132 seats  the Palestinian Legislative Council.

 

Israel refused to deal with the new government and stopped handing over the Palestinian share of customs duties. The so-called "Quartet" – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - cut all aid to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), demanding that Hamas recognise Israel and renounce armed action.

 

After five months of political crisis, a Palestinian unity government was formed by the former majority party, Fatah, and Hamas. But factional struggles continued and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the government in June 2007.

 

Shortly thereafter, Hamas’ militias forced remaining Fatah members from key posts in the Gaza Strip, taking sole control of the region and leaving Fatah controlling the West Bank.

 

The Quartet resumed limited funding to the West Bank Fatah government following the scission.

 

Hamas largely observed a unilateral ceasefire between 2005 and 2007 and has made several offers of peace with Israel, based upon the understanding that Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders. But it stops short of formally recognising Israel's right to exist and still considers the whole region the Palestinians' homeland.