Small pro-ISIS Faction Trying to Challenge Hamas Rule in Gaza

Palestinian, Israeli officials say group isn’t nearly strong enough to take over.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian youth practice military style exercises during a summer camp run by Hamas in Gaza City, June 20, 2013.
Palestinian youth practice military style exercises during a summer camp run by Hamas in Gaza City, June 20, 2013.Credit: AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Salafi organization in Gaza identified with ISIS (Islamic State) demanded on Monday that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, release detainees from the organization within 72 hours and threatened to “open all the fronts” against Hamas if it failed to do so. The Israeli defense establishment is following events in order to see if the internal conflict is liable to lead to rocket fire at Israel.

The announcement by the Organization of Supporters of the Islamic State in the Holy Land was published shortly after a big explosion at Hamas security headquarters in Gaza that caused damage but no casualties. The Salafis, however, didn’t take responsibility for it.

Hamas security forces recently arrested 30-40 Salafists, claiming that they are identified with ISIS and laid explosive devices in public buildings, including UNRWA facilities and the Gaza home of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Dozens of activists have gone underground and Hamas is searching for them.

Two weeks ago Hamas also destroyed a mosque serving as headquarters for pro-ISIS Salafis. The group accused Hamas of behaving like the United States and Israel, destroying houses of worship of Muslim believers. The Salafis also expressed support for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In Gaza it is believed that one of the reasons for the conflict is the battles between ISIS and other organizations in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.

A Hamas activist told Haaretz that the Salafi activists are not a real threat to Hamas rule, maintaining that Hamas is pursuing them because they threaten security and public order. The Hamas Interior Ministry published an announcement saying that the security situation in Gaza is stable.

But sources in Gaza not identified with Hamas claim there is a real fear that the power and influence of the Salafi organization will increase in light of the difficult economic situation and general dissatisfaction in the Strip. Gazans, especially in Gaza City, also report a high state of alert among Hamas security services, as well as checkpoints and increased patrols along the border with Israel, for fear that the Salafis will try to fire rockets or mortars at Israel to violate the calm and incite an Israeli reaction against Hamas. The Israeli defense establishment confirmed that they are also closely monitoring events to see whether there is a chance that the internal conflict in Gaza will lead to rocket fire at Israel.

In spite of all this, both the Palestinians and Israelis believe that the Salafis, ISIS and their supporters lack a logistical and financial infrastructure to present a real threat to Hamas rule in Gaza. For evidence, they note that a parade recently initiated by the Salafis in the Strip attracted only 300 people.

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