The Rise of Hamas

A timeline of key events in the history of the movement

Hamas, an acronym of Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah, or Islamic Resistance Movement, has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Arabic word hamas also means “zeal.” Hamas is now the largest and most influential Palestinian fundamentalist movement.


The Muslim Brotherhood is founded in Egypt as an Islamic revivalist movement, based on the idea that Islam is not only a religious observance, but also a comprehensive way of life.


The first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, breaks out in Gaza. The violence lasts several years.

Hamas is founded by Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi and others.


Hamas publishes an official charter that states, “Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it, as it obliterated others before it.” The text goes on to say, “So-called peaceful solutions contradict the principles of Hamas. Jihad is the only solution for the Palestinian question.”


Israel outlaws Hamas as a terrorist organization after Israelis are killed in attacks by Hamas militants.

Yassin is sentenced to life in prison on charges of authorizing the killing of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel and of ordering the deaths of two captured Israeli agents.


Hamas forms a military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, an armed unit created to fight for the group’s goals. According to a Time magazine article from 2001, “They are organized into small, discreet cells with multiple leadership structures that can quickly replace leaders eliminated by the Israelis or arrested by the PA.”


The Oslo Accords are finalized in August, and in opposition, Hamas sends suicide bombers into Israeli cities. The foundation of the Oslo process required Israel and the PLO to recognize each other’s existence, which Hamas refused to do.


In April, only a week apart, eight people are killed in a car-bomb attack in the Israeli town of Afula and five people are killed in a suicide bombing in the central bus station of Hadera, Israel. Hamas claims responsibility for both attacks. A series of shootings and bombings attributed to Hamas take many other lives over the course of the year.


In January, Hamas, angry that the PA is cooperating with Israel, boycotts the first Palestinian elections, which were arranged as part of the Oslo Accords.

In February, 26 people die in a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem, and one Israeli is killed in an explosion set off by a suicide bomber at a hitchhiking post outside Ashkelon. Hamas claims responsibility for both attacks. Nineteen more are killed in a similar bus bombing in Jerusalem the following month.


Suicide bombers in Jerusalem kill 14 and injure 150. Hamas takes responsibility for the explosions, and Israel points a finger at the PA for failing to curtail terrorism. Some blame the incident for bringing the peace process to a halt.

Yassin is released from Israeli prison as part of a bargain with Jordan, in exchange for two Israelis who were being held in Jordanian custody. Yassin resumes leadership of Hamas, vowing to continue the holy war against Israel.


The second Palestinian uprising, or Al-Aqsa Intifada, erupts at the end of September 2000. One of the sparks cited by Palestinians was then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, a site of holy significance both to Jews and to Muslims. Large-scale demonstrations by Palestinians and stone throwing are cited by some as the beginning of the “worst period of violence in Israel’s history.”


In March, three are killed by a nail bomb attack near Kefar Sava. In May, five Israelis are killed and some 100 injured by a suicide bomber outside a shopping center in Netanya. In June, a Tel Aviv nightclub bombing kills more than 140. In August, a suicide bomber hits a busy restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem, killing 15 and injuring some 90 others. Hamas admits responsibility for all four attacks.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops assassinate a Hamas militant with anti-tank missiles in the West Bank in July, and eight Palestinians are killed when an Israeli helicopter attacks a nearby Hamas office. One of the casualties is a leading Hamas figure; two others are children. In October, a top Hamas bomb-maker on Israel’s most wanted list is blown up in his car.

In December, the U.S. Treasury Department freezes the assets and accounts of a Texas-based organization, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and two Palestinian financial organizations, charging that all three are funding Hamas extremists.


On July 23, Israel drops a powerful missile on the house of Hamas military leader Salah Shehade in Gaza, killing him and 14 others. According to Time magazine, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the air strike “one of the greatest successes of his tenure despite the regretful loss of innocent lives.” Many around the world, including U.N. leader Kofi Annan and U.S. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, criticize the attack for causing civilian casualties and for risking a larger conflict.

Most believe that Mohammad Deif takes over Shehade’s post as commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Although he is badly wounded by an Israeli air strike in September, he survives this and several subsequent attempts on his life.

In December, up to 40,000 people gather in Gaza City to celebrate Hamas’s 15th anniversary. Yassin predicts that Israel will be destroyed by the year 2025.


A Hamas suicide bombing on an Israeli bus kills 20, including six children, and wounds some 100 others.

In August, Ismail Abu Shanab, who had become the public face of Hamas, is killed in a targeted Israeli air strike. Tens of thousands of Palestinians take to the streets in protest.

Yassin, two other prominent Hamas members and 10 bystanders are wounded in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) confirm that they aimed to hit a building “in which the terrorist leadership of Hamas, headed by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was meeting to plan future attacks against Israelis. The IDF will continue to wage a relentless war against Hamas and other terror organizations.”


Hamas makes overtures of peace toward Israel, offering a 10-year truce in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West bank. Senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi confirms that Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was “difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation.”

In March, Yassin is assassinated by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. Tens of thousands attend Yassin’s funeral and call for revenge. A day later, Abdel Aziz Rantisi is announced as his successor, and Hamas begins negotiations to join the PA government.

Rantisi addresses 5,000 and declares President Bush an enemy of Muslims.

In April, Rantisi is assassinated by an Israeli missile attack on his car, along with his 27-year-old son Mohammed and his bodyguard. Four others are injured. Israel claims responsibility for the assassination, stating, “Israel ... today struck a mastermind of terrorism, with blood on his hands. As long as the Palestinian Authority does not lift a finger and fight terrorism, Israel will continue to have to do so itself.”


Hamas boycotts the 2005 Palestinian presidential election in which Abbas is elected to replace the late Arafat.

In August, Deif, who is at the top of Israel’s most wanted list and has been living in hiding, emerges in a video to congratulate Palestinian militant groups for “forcing Israel from Gaza.”

Khaled Meshaal, an influential political leader of Hamas who is living in Syria, calls for the end of a cease-fire that had been negotiated in a pact with the PA. Meshaal says, “There is no room for truce. I say to our brothers in the [Palestinian] Authority that we are witnessing political stagnation.” He argues that Hamas should be allowed to participate in Palestinian political life while continuing to resist Israeli occupation.


In January, in a surprise victory, Hamas wins the majority of seats in Palestinian parliamentary elections, after campaigning for change and reform and challenging the old Fatah party’s “corruption.” Ismail Haniyeh is sworn in as the new Palestinian prime minister. Leaders reiterate that they will not recognize Israel, pursue peace talks or disarm the party’s armed wing.

In April, a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv kills nine people. The terrorist group Islamic Jihad claims responsibility. Hamas calls the act “self-defense” and is widely criticized in the U.S. and Europe.

The new Hamas government and the new Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, settling into office, offer no steps toward political dialogue. Meanwhile, the so-called “Quartet” of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia agree to meet in May to talk about putting a road map to peace back on the agenda.

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Compiled by Joelle Jafffe and Singeli Agnew

Sources: ABC News; BBC; CBC; CNN; Guardian; Time magazine; The New Yorker; Council on Foreign Relations; Foreign Affairs magazine ( “Can Hamas Be Tamed?”)