In my piece of 15 February ("Challenging Hamas") I wrote about the extremist Islamist group known as "Salafis", and more especially about their jihadist element which has organised itself inside the Gaza Strip to challenge what they perceive as the back-sliders of Hamas. They have been engaging in violent armed conflict with Hamas forces, their rationale being that since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, the regime has failed to impose Islamic law.
The Jihadi Salafis identify with Al-Qaida, as do other extremist groups within the Gaza Strip. Last week, radical elements 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 (they are also known as "The Soldiers of the Monotheism Brigades"), and is also moving against the Darmush clan.
Today come reports that Ahmed Ja’abri, commander of Hamas's armed wing ("the Izaddin al-Kassam Brigades"), has sent an urgent letter to Hamas leader in Damascus, Khaled Masha’al, warning that the situation in the Gaza Strip is deteriorating, and that Hamas has started losing control over the territory.
According to a report in a London-based Arab-language newspaper, Ja’abri wrote that “several worrisome explosions recently occurred in Gaza, security anarchy is extensive, and al-Kassam men are being killed.”
The Jihadi Salafis are only one element among the radical Islamist groupings in Gaza who are causing such a domestic headache to Hamas. 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 the Nation, and the Salafi Army of Islam, which are much closer ideologically to Al-Qaida. These groups are responsible for attacks on internet cafés, music stores, 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 – and act accordingly.
A note about Hamas's armed wing:
"Izadeen Al-Qassam Brigades” is the armed branch of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). Linguistically, in Arabic "Ezz" means support, adherence, or pride, and “Deen” means religion. Al-Qassam can be translated as "the breaker" or "divider". Historically, Ezzedeen Al-Qassam was the name of a pioneer mujahid who was killed in 1935 near Jenin. Al-Qassam was born in Syria and expelled to Palestine for resisting the French occupation of Syria and Lebanon. In Palestine, he fought against the British occupation under the Mandate.
The Mandate? Following the first World War, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to govern Palestine. The Mandate incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British Government stated that it "views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…."
It was only this January that Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, considered the mufti of the Izzadin al-Kassam Brigades, and among Israel’s top five targets in Gaza, was assassinated in an Israeli Air Force strike.