CAIRO/GAZA, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.
The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers inCairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad’s army, largely led by fellow members of the president’s Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.
In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas’s future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran’s fellow Shi’ite allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.