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The recent calm on the Israel-Gaza border could be deceiving. Hamas is not firing rockets into Israel and is also preventing more radical groups from launching rockets. At the same time, Hamas is coping with the domestic threat posed by radical groups that identify with Al-Qaida. Recent reports from Gaza indicate that these groups are getting stronger, at the expense of Hamas.

At this point, these groups do not pose much of a threat to Hamas' authority, but Gaza authorities believe that they could pose a concrete threat in the distant future.

Last week, operatives from one of the fundamentalist groups set off three explosive charges in the Shati refugee camp, not far from the home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Two weeks ago, the car of a Hamas police officer was blown up in Khan Younis and three cars of Hamas officials exploded in Gaza City. Three similar explosions occurred in January. Also, there have been attempts to blow up Red Cross vehicles and pharmacies that sell condoms.

Last week, Hamas arrested dozens of suspected supporters of the "Army of Islam", identified with Gaza's Salafi branch, and is also moving against the Darmush clan. According to various assessments, these arrests were connected to the explosions that targeted Hamas.

The radical Islamists in Gaza are divided into several groups: Jaljalat consists of former Hamas members who left the organization because they felt it was not a jihadist movement. Jaljalat opposes attacking fellow Palestinians. On the other hand, there are groups like Jund Ansar Allah, Army of Islam and Army of the Nation which are much closer ideologically to Al-Qaida, and these groups are responsible for attacks on cafes and Christian institutions in Gaza.

The largest confrontation to date between Hamas and radical Islamist groups occurred last year in Rafah, when Hamas attacked a mosque in which Jund Ansar Allah operatives were holed up, killing 26 Palestinians, including the leader of the group.

In one recent report, the head of the Salafist movement in Gaza said his supporters would support the Hamas government if it followed Sharia law. If it failed to do so, the Salafists would view the Hamas government as an obstacle to the implementation of God's laws.

Despite the growing armed opposition to Hamas rule in Gaza, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad said that Hamas is in control of the situation.

In conclusion, it is possible that Israel, which until now has viewed Hamas as its biggest enemy in Gaza, needs to take into account that within a couple of years Hamas will be the moderate force in Gaza protecting the calm while a monstrous and more dangerous threat is growing in the form of the ultra-radical groups.

Posted by Avi Issacharoff on March 4, 2010

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  • Iran in the cross-hairs