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EDITIONS
Middle East Friday, 6 November, 1998, 10:05 GMT
Hamas challenges the peace-makers
israel bomb
The aftermath of a Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem
The name Hamas is an acronym of the first letters of the Arabic words for "Islamic Resistance Movement." It also means zeal.

Hamas was founded in December 1987 at the beginning of the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.

It was founded by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who was in prison from 1989 until Israel released him in September 1997 after a bungled Israeli attempt to assassinate a military leader of Hamas in Jordan.

Fighting occupation

Hamas members view working against Israel to be a religious duty, and are opposed to the peace process in its current form.

Hamas ultimately desires the establishment of an Islamic state of Palestine in the whole of the territory originally mandated as Palestine, and demands a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Hamas has also won support within the Palestinian population because of its reputation for efficiency and a lack of corruption, in contrast to some parts of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas is a grass-roots Palestinian organisation, and has a political and a military wing. It has two main functions: it is involved in building schools and hospitals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in helping the community in social and religious ways.

Bombings upset dialogue

However, the military wing of Hamas - known as the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades - has carried out a series of bloody attacks against Israeli targets.

In February and March 1996, the organisation carried out several bus bombings, killing nearly 60 Israelis. And attacks in 1997 in Jerusalem killed 15 people, bringing the peace process grinding to a halt.

Support for Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is thought to be around 15-20%, with the movement particularly strong in the Gaza Strip, where economic conditions are worse.

Yasser Arafat's PLO views Hamas as a serious rival, yet has also tried - with only limited success - to co-opt the movement into mainstream Palestinian politics. Hamas has at various points engaged in dialogue with the PLO, yet the relationship between the two remains difficult and unpredictable.

The political wing of Hamas has been run from the Jordanian capital Amman for more than ten years. The late King Hussien tolerated the organisation because it gave him leaverage over Yasser Arafat and because of the widespread support Hamas receives from Palestinians.

His successor, King Abdullah, came under intense pressure from the United States and Israel to curb Hamas's activities. The clamp down on the group began in August 1999 with closure of Hamas offices and the arrest of activists.

The expulsion to Qatar of four senior figures in November is expected to kill off the organisation in Jordan.

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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