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Hamas reduces its presence in Syria amid violence

December 7, 2011 |  8:19 pm

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REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian militant group Hamas has moved the families of some of its members out of its Damascus headquarters and back to the Gaza Strip.

The relocation triggered renewed rumors that Hamas is under pressure to abandon its exile base in Syria, where President Bashar Assad -- a benefactor of the group -- is struggling to retain control of the country amid a popular uprising.

Hamas officials have repeatedly denied reports that they are searching for a new base in another Arab country, including Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. But observers say the group has been quietly dismantling its presence in Syria for months because of the instability there.

A Hamas spokesman confirmed that some Hamas family members had returned to Gaza in recent days, but said the move was temporary, triggered by the increasing insecurity in Syria. He said Hamas decided to evacuate nonessential staff and their families as a precaution.

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-- Edmund Sanders

Soldiers of the Free Syria Army, formed by army deserters, take position Wednesday in an undisclosed location in Syria. Credit: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP/Getty Images