“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is the Palestinian Sunni Islamic or Islamist political party that governs the Gaza Strip. Hamas also has a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Since June 2007 Hamas has governed the Gaza portion of the Palestinian Territories, after it won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and then defeated the Fatah political organization in a series of violent clashes. The European Union, the United States, Canada, Israel and Japan classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, while the Arab nations and countries such as Russia and Turkey do not.
Based on the principles of Islamic fundamentalism gaining momentum throughout the Arab world in the 1980s, Hamas was founded in 1987 (during the First Intifada) as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin stated in 1987 and the Hamas Charter affirmed in 1988 that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. In July 2009, Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s Damascus-based political bureau chief, said the organization was willing to cooperate with “a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict which included a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders,” provided that Palestinian refugees hold the right to return to Israel and that East Jerusalem be the new nation’s capital.
The Hamas charter exhibits the influence of antisemitic conspiracy theories throughout, as evidenced by the explicit mention of the “The Protocols of the Elder of Zion,” or statements labeling “Freemasons, The Rotary and Lions clubs” as “sabotage groups … behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds.” Some experts and advocacy groups believe that statements by some Hamas leaders display similar conspiratorial influences, though Hamas officials are clear to describe the conflict with Israel as political and not religious.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas affiliated military wing, has launched attacks with both military and civilian victims. Tactics have included rocket attacks and, from 1993 to 2008, suicide bombings. Military targets included Israeli and Egyptian outposts and border crossings and rival Palestinian militias in the occupied territories.
In the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Parliament, defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party. Following the elections, the United States and the EU halted financial assistance to the Hamas-led administration. In March 2007 a national unity government, headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, was briefly formed, but this failed to restart international financial assistance. Tensions over control of Palestinian security forces soon erupted into the 2007 Battle of Gaza, after which Hamas retained control of Gaza while its officials were ousted from government positions in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed an economic blockade on Gaza, on the grounds that Fatah forces were no longer providing security there.
In June 2008, as part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Hamas ceased rocket attacks on Israel and made some efforts to prevent attacks by other organizations. After a four months calm, the conflict escalated when Israel carried out a military action with the stated aim to prevent an abduction planned by Hamas, using a tunnel that had been dug under the border security fence, killing seven Hamas operatives. In retaliation, Hamas attacked Israel with a barrage of rockets. In late December 2008, Israel attacked Gaza, withdrawing its forces from the territory in mid-January 2009. After the Gaza War, Hamas continued to govern the Gaza strip and Israel maintained its economic blockade. On May 4, 2011, Hamas and Fatah announced a reconciliation agreement that provides for “creation of a joint caretaker Palestinian government” prior to national elections scheduled for 2012. As part of that agreement, Hamas’ resistance would be peaceful and not military, according to Israeli news reports