Hamas Web Site: Saudi Fighter Priest Killed in Gaza Battle With IDF

Report indicates Hamas may be gaining more acceptance among fundamentalist Muslim groups.

The unusual report of a Saudi jihadist, who was killed while fighting Israel alongside Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, appears to indicate that Hamas may be gaining greater acceptance among even more fundamentalist Muslim groups.

As a rule, Hamas does not release details about its casualties - neither in number nor identity. But a Web site identified with a radical Islamic organization that preaches jihad and features the logo of Hamas' military wing, reported that Abu Muhammed Mari, a Saudi sheikh mujahid ("fighter-priest"), who previously fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya, was killed in the fighting in Gaza.

Reuven Paz, an Israeli scholar who researches radical Islam and who noticed the posting on the Web site, said it is important because it appears to mark a change in the way Al-Qaida and other jihad proponents view Hamas. They tend to criticize Hamas, seeing it as an ally of the Islamic Brotherhood, both of which they deem moderates willing to compromise and reach agreements with Israel. Those groups also don't look kindly upon Hamas' refusal to declare a theocratic Muslim state in Gaza. Despite this, the Saudi joined Hamas' struggle, possibly because there is no real Al-Qaida foothold in Gaza at this stage. In any case, Paz said, this is the first report of a Saudi killed while fighting alongside Palestinians against Israel.