POLITICS

Hamas, Hezbollah Denounce ISIL, Reject Blacklisting By Canada

08/16/2015 10:48 EDT | Updated 08/16/2016 05:59 EDT
BEIRUT — Two political parties in the Middle East designated as terror groups by Canada predict the Islamic State movement won't survive and question why they're blacklisted when co-operation could defeat the common enemy.

Representatives of both Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon have separately condemned ISIL in rare meetings with The Canadian Press.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has denounced the jihadist militants, a position he has used to buttress Canada's involvement in the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. 

National security is a leading issue in the Oct. 19 federal election.

ISIL is "not accepted" by most Muslims represented by Hamas, said its boss in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan.

"In Gaza, we do have the resolution to deal harshly and prevent these groups," he said.

A source close to Hezbollah's top leadership said extremist movements "mushroom, but they never last and don't find a place with moderate Sunnis and Shias.

"There will always be radical thinking in the world," said the man, who agreed to speak on anonymity, through a translator.

"We had called for the largest coalition to fight terrorism. We had also called upon religious scholars in this region to condemn this phenomenon."

A political analyst with the American University of Beirut said the tough talk could signal more shifting alliances.

"It's possible you could have Canada and the U.S. working with Hezbollah and Hamas against ISIL if they're seen as a common threat — which they are," said Rami Khouri, who has 45 years of experience in the region.

"But it's not happening right now. If it did happen, it would be in different political circumstances."

Canada has joined the United States and Israel in outlawing Hezbollah and Hamas. Some countries, including Australia, blacklist just their military wings, while the Lebanese government recognizes the party and its MPs.

The federal government describes Hezbollah as a "radical Shia group" ideologically inspired by the Iranian revolution. It calls Hamas a "radical Islamist-nationalist terrorist organization" that emerged from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Public Safety Canada has posted online profiles of the two organizations, outlining terror acts including the 1983 suicide bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut by Hezbollah and suicide attacks on Israelis by Hamas.

It's clear that whatever party forms the next government in Canada, ISIL will still be considered an enemy.

Harper has said it would be "absolutely foolish" not to go after the militants before they can come after Canada. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau favours training local troops, while NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has rejected the mission as "wrong headed" because it's led by the U.S.

The Hezbollah source said that ideally, Canada would be an ally.

"It's a country that we respect."

He noted that some Lebanese living in Canada support Hezbollah's cause by "praying" and providing "political support."

Hezbollah shouldn't be on Canada's list of banned terror entities, he said.

"What did we do in Canada to be designated a terror group?" he asked, adding it shouldn't be incumbent upon Hezbollah to persuade Canadian officials to scrub the group from its blacklist.

The meetings with The Canadian Press took place during Ramadan last month, inside boardrooms of multi-storey buildings within Hezbollah-controlled quadrants of Beirut's southern suburbs. The source close to Hezbollah said the group might be open to co-operation with non-typical allies — such as the U.S. — against the militants.

"Canada is part of the American system. When the U.S. designated us as a terrorist organization, Canada did the same," he said. "There isn't any justification to be on the terrorist list, but (Canada calls) fighting Israel terrorism. We say, 'No, it is resistance, not terrorism.'"

Hamas' chief pointed to Canada's economic and policy alignment with Israel over Palestine as a source of animosity. Protesters in the West Bank hurled shoes at former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's convoy during a trip last January.

"This is one of the major problems. But we believe you can't create relations by throwing shoes or stones at the others," Hamdan said. "The one who closed the doors is the West, not Hamas."

The Department of Public Safety declined comment, while the Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to interview requests.

Khouri said Canada's government used to be "more rational" in labelling groups in the Middle East, adding ISIL's actions may be repulsive but the movement doesn't particularly threaten the West.

"Western governments like the Canadian government — this one in particular — vastly exaggerate (ISIL's threat)," he said.

"It's basically playing on the ignorance of voters and their emotional fears."

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