Hamas was created in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood at the beginning of the First Intifada. Best known in Israel and the West for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against civilians and Israeli military and security forces targets, Hamas' charter (written in 1988 and still in effect) calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Vehemently anti-Israel and, according to some, anti-Semitic its charter states: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad." After coming to power, Hamas announced it was giving up suicide attacks and "offered a 10-year truce [with Israel] in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem." Hamas also declared a unilateral ceasefire with Israel which, after Israeli air strikes in response to Hamas smuggling weapons into Gaza, was formally renounced.
Since the death of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas's political wing has entered and won many local elections in Gaza, Qalqilya, and Nablus. In January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber, while the ruling Fatah party took 43. Hamas's militant stance has found a receptive audience among Palestinians; many perceived the preceding Fatah government as corrupt and ineffective, and Hamas's supporters see it as an "armed resistance" movement defending Palestinians from what they see as a brutal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Hamas has further gained popularity by establishing "hospitals, education systems, libraries and social services" throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian territories have experienced internal conflicts for many years; since Hamas's election victory, particularly sharp infighting has occurred between Hamas and Fatah, leading to many Palestinian deaths.
Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, and the United States, and is banned in Jordan. Australia and the United Kingdom list the militant wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as a terrorist organization. On June 18, 2007, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) issued a decree outlawing the Hamas militia and executive force after Hamas's militarily took control of the Gaza Strip. According to the US State Department, the group is funded by Iran, Palestinian expatriates, and private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch stated that Hamas' leaders "should be held accountable for the war crimes and crimes against humanity" that have been committed by its members.
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