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What is Hamas? What to know about the group attacking Israel

What is Hamas, group behind Israel attack?
What is Hamas, the group behind the deadly attack in Israel? 04:31

The Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a devastating attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,400 Israelis, which was praised by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. The assault ignited a war with the Jewish state, leading to the deaths of many more people in the Gaza Strip in retaliatory strikes.

What is Hamas' ideology?

Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, which means Islamic Resistance Movement, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. The group is "committed to armed resistance against Israel and the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel's place," according to the center.

What is the Hamas charter?

Hamas' 1988 charter calls for the destruction of Israel, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies for the council, said in 2021 that Hamas "sees all of Israel and Palestine as Muslim lands, and thus the illegitimacy of Israel and Jewish claims to those lands."

Who funds Hamas?

Hamas receives material and financial support from Iran, according to the U.S. government and the Council on Foreign Relations. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told CBS News on Monday that Iran was "broadly complicit" in the latest conflict, but he also said Iran wasn't known to be directly involved in the attacks.

"What I can say, without a doubt, is that Iran is broadly complicit in these attacks," Finer said on "CBS Mornings." "Iran has been Hamas' primary backer for decades. They have provided them weapons, they have provided them training, they have provided them financial support. … What we have not seen yet at this moment, although we are continuing to look at it very closely, is any sort of direct involvement in the immediate attacks that took place over the last couple of days."

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Iran openly admits to supporting Palestinian groups in Gaza; leaders of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which also participated in the attack on Israel, regularly visit the country's capital of Tehran. They both visited the city in June, and held extensive meetings with top Iranian officials, including with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

During his meeting with Hamas' politburo chief, Khamenei reiterated "Iran's continued support for the Palestinian people, their resistance, and their just cause, as it is a legitimate duty from which there is no retreat," Hamas said in a statement after the meeting. He also called for "exerting and consolidating efforts to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and end the siege on the Gaza Strip," the statement added.

The Palestinian factions don't make their ties with Iran a secret either. They admit Iran has been their primary supporter.

In a televised speech in December 2017, Hamas' top commander in Gaza, Yahya al-Sinwar, bragged that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard general killed by the U.S. in Baghdad in 2020 — Qassem Soleimani — had contacted the leadership of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, as well as with the leadership of the al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, and offered them the Guard's full support.

"All our resources and capabilities are at your disposal in the battle to defend Jerusalem," al-Sinwar quoted the Iranian general as saying.

Once Iran's foreign operations chief, Soleimani was killed by a U.S. drone strike outside Baghdad Airport in Iraq on Jan. 3, 2020.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad recently held military drills in the Gaza Strip, as did Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

A member of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, takes part in a parade in Gaza City on November 14, 2021.
A member of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, takes part in a parade in Gaza City on November 14, 2021. Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Where is Hamas located?

According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Hamas primarily operates in Gaza but also has a presence in the West Bank, where the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority control different parts of the Palestinian territory.

Other areas where Hamas operates are the Middle Eastern capitals of Doha, Qatar and Cairo, Egypt, as well as Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, according to the center.

Is Hamas Palestinian?

Yes. The group formed in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement that was founded in Egypt in 1928.

In 2007, Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza.

Is Hamas designated a terrorist group?

Yes. Hamas was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in October 1997 along with several other groups, including Hezbollah.

In the U.S., the designation makes it illegal for Americans to knowingly provide "material support or resources" to such groups. U.S. financial institutions must also seize control of a designated organization's funds in their possession and report them to the government.

What is the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah?

Like Hamas, Hezbollah is also an Iran-backed group with a political party and a militant wing that's been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S., which refers to the group as Hizballah. Hezbollah also opposes Israel, and the two sides have fought against each other before.

But Hezbollah is based in south Lebanon, which borders northern Israel. It operates as a militia alongside Lebanon's armed forces, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Hamas and Hezbollah follow different divisions of Islam. Hamas is predominately Sunni, the religion's single biggest group that a majority of several countries follow, including Egypt. Hezbollah is a Shiite group, the religion's second-largest division that Iran's population overwhelmingly follows.

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