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Syrian chaos forces Hamas to relocate

    The Hamas leadership is seeking to relocate its headquarters from Damascus, in the wake of continuing unrest and pro-democracy protests in Syria, now in their eighth month.

    Hamas has three main leadership centres: its political and military wings in the Gaza Strip and the political bureau in Damascus, which functions mainly as the Hamas foreign wing and co-ordinates the shipment of arms and transfer of funds to Gaza.

    Hamas has maintained its main offices in Damascus for over 20 years, first as guests of President Hafez al-Assad and then of his son and successor, Bashar. Syria was the perfect base, not just for the support of the regime, but also its alliance with Iran, Hamas's bankrollers and arm suppliers.

    But in recent weeks, families of senior Hamas members in Damascus have begun moving to other Arab countries, while the movement itself, according to Israeli intelligence sources, has begun searching for a new permanent base.

    The head of the political bureau, Khaled Masha'al, was in Jordan last week, a visit that was interpreted by some in the Arab world as an exploratory one, looking for a new base. Due to its fear of another Israeli incursion, Hamas will not site its main headquarters in Gaza, but nor are other Arab neighbours preferred options, as Lebanon is also unstable and Egypt and Jordan both have close ties with the West and peace treaties with Israel.

    One possibility is moving to one of the Gulf States. Hamas will not make a public move at present, so as not to be seen disloyal to Bashar Assad, but the movement is also eager not to be seen as supporters of the "old guard" in the Arab world.

    Meanwhile, the chaos in Syria is intensifying. Apparently this week hundreds more soldiers and officers in the Syrian army deserted, rather than take part in the bloody suppression of the protests in which over 2,000 civilians have been killed.

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