ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Hamas delegation visits Syria for first time in a decade, will meet Assad

Leader of Palestinian terror group says ‘too early’ to discuss moving HQ back to Damascus, after thaw brokered by Iran and Hezbollah

In this December 4, 2006 file photo, Syria's President Bashar Assad, right, meets with Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh in Damascus, Syria. (AP/Sana, File)
In this December 4, 2006 file photo, Syria's President Bashar Assad, right, meets with Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh in Damascus, Syria. (AP/Sana, File)

DAMASCUS, Syria — A Hamas delegation arrived in Damascus Wednesday for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the first such visit since the Palestinian terror organization severed ties with Syria a decade ago.

Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, was one of Assad’s closest allies but left Syria in 2012 after condemning his brutal suppression of peaceful protests in March 2011, which triggered the country’s descent into civil war.

“The Hamas delegation arrived in Damascus on a two-day visit,” during which Palestinian factions will meet Assad, said Palestinian Popular Struggle Front leader Khaled Abdel Majid.

The meeting will be followed by a news conference at 1:30 p.m. local time.

The visit by the Hamas delegation, headed by Arab relations chief Khalil al-Hayya, comes after the Islamist group signed a reconciliation deal with its Palestinian rival Fatah in Algiers last week, vowing to hold elections by next October in a bid to settle a 15-year rift.

It also comes after Hamas announced it wanted to normalize its relations with Damascus, citing “rapid regional and international developments surrounding our cause and our nation.”

Analysts said that was a reference to the growing number of Arab governments that have normalized ties with Hamas’s arch-enemy Israel in recent years.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, speaks during a press conference in Gaza City, November 27, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

A Hamas leader told AFP the group plans to reopen its Damascus office but that it was “too early” to talk about relocating its headquarters to the Syrian capital.

The thaw between Hamas and Damascus was brokered by Tehran and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, a senior Hamas source said.

For the past decade, Syrian officials had accused Hamas of betrayal after it criticized the regime’s actions in the civil war.

The group has its origins in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, whose Syrian branch was one of the leading factions in the armed opposition after the war broke out.

Hamas officials have said they since broke ties with the Brotherhood in 2017.

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