Following the recent escalation in the Hamas-Israel conflict, Arab officials and columnists have been criticizing Hamas in the Arab and Palestinian press, blaming it for the escalation of violence and for the Gaza residents' suffering. It was also stated that Hamas was not acting for the benefit of the Palestinians, but was following Syrian and Iranian directives and promoting their interests.
The following are excerpts from statements and columns:
Hamas Gives Israel Excuses to Attack
At a Ramallah press conference following the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Palestinian Information Minister Riyadh Al-Maliki said: "As the force in charge of Gaza, Hamas must bear the responsibility for its citizens' [wellbeing], and must not give Israel an excuse [to attack] by launching primitive rockets from Gaza. These rockets do not kill Israelis [but] accidentally hit Palestinians. They achieve the opposite of what is intended, causing hundreds of Palestinian civilians to be killed."
Al-Maliki added, "By staging a coup against the legitimate Palestinian [authority] in Gaza, and with its useless rockets, Hamas has given the international community an opportunity to disregard the situation in Gaza." 
Harsh criticism of Hamas was also voiced by the Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who said that the Hamas' rocket attacks were useless and would only bring trouble upon the Palestinians themselves. 
Hilmi Al-Ghul, political advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayadh, attacked Hamas for boasting of victory over Israel when hundreds of Palestinians had been killed as a result of Hamas' actions: "What victory are they talking about? Do the massacre of [Palestinians] and the destruction of Gaza's vital infrastructures count as a victory? Where is the victory in that? Over 120 [Palestinians] have been martyred, and over 300 have been wounded, while [on the Israeli side] only two or five have been injured. Is that a victory? Why doesn't the Hamas leadership do a [simple] cost-benefit analysis?...
"If there was a victory, it belongs to the [Palestinian] people and to its [rightful] leadership, represented by [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas and by the government of Salam Fayadh. [This victory] belongs to all the citizens who rallied to the defense of the [Palestinian] people and the [Palestinian] cause by every means [at their disposal]. It belonged, and continues to belong, to those who call to restore our national unity. It belongs to those who seek to achieve our national aims with minimal loss of life among the people, and to end the siege, the oppression, and the aggression.
"Oh leaders of the useless [Gaza] coup! The aggression is not ceasing, and the blood continues to flow from the Palestinians' veins - so will you stop shouting [empty] and deceptive slogans? Will you return to your senses and to your people, and give up the wretched notion of establishing an [Islamic] emirate [in Gaza]?" 
Kuwaiti Columnist: Hamas Is Responsible for Palestinian Deaths
Kuwaiti reformist Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa that Hamas bears sole responsibility for the Palestinians' plight in Gaza:
"Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli attacks, triggered by the launching of a few Hamas rockets that [did no more than] wound one or two Israelis. [This prompts us] to ask: Is there anyone rational in this insane movement called Hamas?... How long will this madness last?
"I do not say this out of compassion or empathy for the Palestinians, for they are paying for the folly of following Hamas, which rules Gaza with funds [that come] from the Gulf... The Palestinian people, whom Hamas has placed under siege in Gaza, have been reduced to begging Hamas for charity. Due to the moral laxity of its members, this movement [Hamas] is not above stealing food from the mouths of the Palestinian people - food donated by the Gulf states...
"The truth that the Palestinians refuse to see... is that their daily suffering - the deaths and wounding, the unemployment, and the power outages - are mostly [the result of] the arrogance of [Isma'il] Haniyya and his movement. [Haniyya] controls this movement by means of a gang that does nothing but terrorize the Palestinians, brutalize them on a daily basis with [the help of] its gunmen... and [provoke] ongoing Israeli attacks.
"If the Palestinians [really] support Hamas, as they claim, they should stop complaining about what Israel is doing. Do they expect the Israelis to shower them with flowers rather than missiles? Hamas - whose leader appears only at rallies, like [Hizbullah Secretary-General] Hassan Nasrallah... - bears sole responsibility for the death of Palestinians [which is occurring] on a daily basis... In light of their insane insistence on launching improvised rockets [into Israel], they bear sole responsibility for the destruction of Gaza... " 
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The Only Alternative to the Present Gaza Scenario is a Peace Agreement
Lebanese columnist Jihad Fadhel wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Raya that an agreement with Israel is the only logical solution to the Palestinian problem: "The harm that Hamas is causing Israel (through its rocket attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon) [is negligible] compared to the harm caused by Israel to Gaza... But [Hamas] harms the Palestinian cause even more by its negative attitude towards the [peace] agreement that Israel and the PA are trying to advance.
"For the first time in the history of the Palestinian cause, that is, [for the first time] since the establishment of Israel in 1948, there is hope for a real agreement which can bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state... But [now, when the Palestinians] should be uniting behind this demand in hope of realizing all their aspirations, we see Hamas pursuing a policy not dictated by logic or reason - for logic and reason demand an agreement [with Israel], while the alternative is the scenario that we are currently witnessing in Gaza - a scenario of disasters that not only harm the Palestinians in Gaza but strike at the very heart of the Palestinian cause...
"No Palestinian liberation movement can make any headway in the conditions prevailing today in Gaza, [especially] when its will is subjugated to that of strong external [powers], which direct it according to their own orientation and interests.
"Regardless of the [valid] criticism that can be leveled at the government of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Fatah, there is no doubt that their [decision] to pursue an agreement is logical and unavoidable..." 
Syria and Iran Are Exploiting the Palestinian Problem
Some articles stressed that Syria and Iran were funding Hamas and directing its activities, and that a motivation in doing so was to divert the attention of the upcoming Arab summit, to be held in Damascus at the end of March, from the Lebanese presidency crisis to the Gaza situation.
Kuwaiti columnist Nasser Al-'Utaibi wrote in Al-Siyassa:..."In an obvious and deliberate move, Syria and Iran are pressuring [Hamas political bureau head] Khaled Mash'al and Hamas to escalate the [fighting] with Israel prior to the Damascus summit. This [move] has two goals: first, to divert the summit's attention from the main issue [on its agenda, namely] Lebanon's rights, its independence, its sovereignty, and its freedom to elect its own president without pressure from Iran and Syria... and second, to force the Arab leaders to attend the summit because Israel is perpetrating a massacre against the Palestinians...
"The Arab nation is tired of regimes, groups, power centers and self-interested [parties] exploiting the Palestinian cause as a pretext for [waging] wars... All peoples are familiar with this exploitation of the [Palestinian] problem, and with the harm these forces have done to the Arab nation in the past 50 years. They do nothing but [shout] high-flown slogans, issue statements that are never put into practice, and spend huge sums of money on weapons at the expense of the people's wellbeing and quality of life. Can anything be worse than the conditions in which the citizens of Syria and Iran are currently living?
"We feel sorry for the Palestinian people, which has fallen prey to the leaders in Damascus and Tehran... It pains us that innocent Palestinians are dying because of the stupidity of their leaders, who cleave to their positions [of power], pursue their own interests, and succumb to the [pressures of the] Iranian and Syrian regimes instead of looking after the interests of the Palestinian people..." 
When Will the People of Gaza Wake Up?
Columnist Muhammad Hashem wrote in the reformist website www.elaph.com: "Hamas, and the Syrians and Iranians who fund it, bear the sole responsibility for the recent scenes of bloodshed in Gaza. Today they are the happiest of men, since, [with the world condemning Israel for the attacks on Gaza], they are no longer under political pressure to stop transforming Gaza into a terrorist entity and to be more receptive towards the calls for peace emanating from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority...
"The goal has been achieved. Hamas celebrated when extremist organizations from the Gulf and the Iranian and Syrian governments showered it with funds as a reward [for escalating the situation in Gaza] - funds which enable its leaders to build themselves palaces outside Palestine, [while] using the bloodshed to advance their own agenda - which is based on nothing but killing.
"Hamas was truly elated when the calls by its sheikhs in the mosques - who have now been made government ministers - were put into practice, and the death toll among Gazan civilians was jacked up in order to embarrass the Palestinian Authority. Khaled Mash'al's shrill clamoring was clearly [intended] to ignite a war, as [Hamas'] only way to extricate itself from the mess in Gaza.
"Amidst all the tumult of Hamas' clamoring and the deaths of innocents, nobody paid attention to the countries that were supporting Hamas, and that were planning moves aimed at embarrassing their rivals... at a cost of innocent lives.
"Does Iran realize that it is party to the murder of innocents in Gaza because of its support for Hamas' [foolhardy] actions? Has Qatar considered, even for a moment, withdrawing its financial and media support for this wretched and loudmouthed movement? Does Syria realize that its involvement with Hamas does not lessen its isolation [in the international arena] but increases it?
"Will the people of Gaza wake up and rebel against Hamas and its financiers, and thus send [its members] scurrying like rats for cover, along with the Al-Qaeda cells, both dormant and active, [in Gaza] - as happened to the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq? We hope that they will." 
Also, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Alhomayed wrote: "Syria and Iran must be questioned about the seriousness and efficacy of the actions of their allies in Hamas - both those who remain in Damascus and those who hide in their holes in Gaza. Did their rocket [attacks on Israel] benefit the helpless Palestinian [people in any way]? Or have the people of Gaza been left to deal with the death and destruction on their own, while the Hamas leaders flee to safe hideouts, calling this the 'prudent' way to wage war with Israel...?" 
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 3, 2008.
 Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), March 4, 2008.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), March 5, 2008.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 1, 2008.
 Al-Raya (Qatar), March 10, 2008.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 10, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 2, 2008.