World News and Trends: Who and what is Hamas?

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Who and what is Hamas?

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Political observers were stunned when the Islamic group Hamas won a landslide victory in the Jan. 25 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, putting it at the helm of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and throwing peace prospects into turmoil. So who and what is Hamas?

Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya ("Islamic Resistance Movement"). In Arabic, the word hamas is typically defined as "zeal" or "warlike strength and bravery." Ironically, hamas is also a Hebrew word meaning "violence."

Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Gaza in 1946. Hamas officially formed in 1987. It carried out its first suicide bombing in 1993. Due to its attacks against civilian targets including buses, supermarkets, shopping areas, hotels and restaurants, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by most Western nations, including the United States and the European Union.

Since the current wave of Palestinian violence began in September 2000, Hamas has launched more than 400 attacks against Israelis, killing almost 400 and injuring more than 2,000. Of these attacks, the most deadly were 52 suicide bombings, including two by women.

In 1988 Hamas published its 9,100-word charter. This declaration of the organization's fundamental principles illustrates why peace is unlikely to break out anytime soon in the Middle East. Some excerpts:

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious."

"The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."

"The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders."

"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

"In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised."

"The Prophet [Muhammad], Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: 'The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, "O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."'"

The slogan of Hamas is: "Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Qur'an its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes." (Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wikipedia, the Hamas Charter as translated by the Avalon Project at Yale Law School .)