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Militant Hamas Group Back in Damascus After Years of Tension

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, shakes hands with Ziad Nakhaleh, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, as Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas' political branch, center, and others wait to greet the president, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. AP
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, shakes hands with Ziad Nakhaleh, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, as Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch, center, and others wait to greet the president, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. AP

Two senior officials from the Palestinian militant Hamas group visited Syria’s capital Wednesday in the first such visit since the faction was forced to leave the war-torn country a decade ago over backing armed opposition fighters.

The visit appears to be a first step toward full reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian government and follows a monthslong mediation by Iran and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group — both key backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Over the years, Tehran and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have maintained their relations with Hamas, despite Assad’s rift with the Palestinian militants.

Before the rift, Hamas had long kept a political base in Syria, receiving Damascus’ support in its campaign against Israel. Hamas’ powerful leadership-in-exile remained in Syria even after the group took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

But when Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him. The rebels are largely Sunni Muslims, like Hamas, and scenes of Sunni civilian deaths raised an outcry across the region against Assad, who belongs to the Alawites, a minority Shiite sect in Syria.

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