BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian state-run television has bitterly criticized the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas for turning his back on President Bashar al-Assad, his one-time protector.
Syria welcomed Hamas in 1999 after Jordanian authorities expelled its leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, accusing him of using the country for illicit activities.
Meshaal and Assad’s relationship, built on enmity to Israel, fractured as Assad cracked down on opposition protests that grew into an armed uprising. Meshaal shut down Hamas’s offices in Damascus in February and left the country.
“Syria embraced Meshaal like an orphan looking for shelter after other countries shut the door in his face,” Syrian television said in a commentary broadcast on Monday evening.
“As long as you are in an emotional state regarding the suffering of the Syrian people, Meshaal, why did you not give the same due attention to the people of Palestine ... in occupied territories?” TV said.
Syria and Iran formed an “axis of resistance” with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Palestinian militant groups to oppose Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967 and also occupied southern Lebanon for two decades.
But Hamas, whose ideological roots stem from the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, distanced itself from Assad last year as he cracked down on mainly Sunni Muslim protesters and rebels.
Hamas’s political leadership moved to Egypt, which now has an Islamist government following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak last year.
Meshaal himself moved to Qatar, a Sunni Muslim Gulf country that has supported the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
The verbal attack appears to be a reaction to Meshaal’s appearance at a conference of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party on Sunday. Erdogan has called for Assad to step down.
Around half a million Palestinians live in Syria. Many have become disillusioned with Assad since fighting started in the Palestinian refugee districts of Yarmouk and Hajar al-Aswad, which now stand in ruin from artillery and aerial attacks.
Activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the protests and during the ensuing civil war that has divided world powers.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes and Laila Bassam; Editing by Robin Pomeroy