Who are Hamas?
Hamas has many faces and
voices but the leadership's
main goal is to eliminate Israel.
The armed struggle
Many Palestinians cheered the wave of Hamas suicide attacks (and those of fellow militants Islamic Jihad and the secular al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) in the first years of the intifada.
The high-point in Hamas's fortunes came with their January 2006 election victory
Hamas takes its name from the Arabic initials for the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Branded a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, it is seen by its supporters as a legitimate fighting force defending Palestinians from a brutal military occupation. They also has a long-term aim of establishing an Islamic state on all of historic Palestine - most of which has been contained within Israel's borders since its creation in 1948.
For years the organisation was divided into two main spheres of operation:
- social programmes like building schools, hospitals and religious institutions
- militant operations carried out by Hamas' underground Iss al-Din Qassam Brigades.
But it became increasingly involved in Palestinian factional politics, both in the occupied territories and with a political branch in exile. In February and March 1996, it carried out several suicide bus bombings, killing nearly 60 Israelis, in retaliation for the assassination in December 1995 of Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash.
The bombings were widely blamed for turning Israelis off the peace process and bringing about the election of right-winger Mr Netanyahu who was a staunch opponent of the Oslo accords.
Yassin is the founder
and was the spiritual
leader of Hamas.
Believing that a divided leadership would undermine Palestinian interests, Sheikh Yassin sought to maintain good relations with the Palestinian Authority and with other regimes in the Arab world.
But he remained uncompromising on the issue of peace. "The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a substitute for jihad and resistance," Sheikh Yassin repeatedly said.
Zahar is Hamas foreign minister
and has said it is legitimate for
Hamas to kill Jewish children
Mr Zahhar has insisted his organisation has the "right to resist" Israeli attacks.
"We are not playing at terrorism or violence. We are under occupation," he said.
"The Israelis are continuing their aggression against our people, killing, detention, demolition and in order to stop these processes, we run effective self defence by all means, including using guns."
Haniya is prime minister
of Gaza, in effect the leader
of Gaza, He has not been
been seen since the invasion
of Gaza by Israel.
Mr Haniya urged the US and EU not to carry out their threats to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounced violence and recognised Israel.
He stressed the Palestinians were entitled to continue their struggle for independence, but at the same time said he wanted to hold talks with international mediators about solving the conflict.
"Our government will spare no effort to reach a just peace in the region, putting an end to the occupation and restoring our rights," he said.