Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Relations between the Hamas and Salafist Jihadist groups operating out of the Gaza Strip have entered a fractious stage as the movement has begun to tighten the noose around Salafist Jihadist elements. Over the past two days the Hamas movement has been carrying out a campaign of arrests against armed Salafist Jihadist groups in Gaza, and is reportedly pursuing elements from these groups from “house to house and street to street.” Hamas is in the process of investigating the structure of these groups, as well as the sources of their funding and arming.
The Gazan government began this campaign in the aftermath of last month’s attack on an Egyptian army checkpoint that resulted in the deaths of 16 Egyptian officers and soldiers. Egypt has lately identified those responsible for this attack, revealing that it was carried out by 6 foreign nationals and one Egyptian citizen. Egyptian Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal El-Din also revealed that the Egyptian citizen had been a member of a dormant local jihadist cell, but did not reveal the nationalities of the other suspects or say if any of the seven had been detained. For its part, Hamas intensified its campaign of arrests against Salafist Jihadist groups after rockets were fired at the Israeli border town of Sderot, with the Mujahideen Shura Council [MSC] claiming responsibility for this.
Salafist Jihadist official, Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hamas arrested 37 [Salafist Jihadist] members in a short period of time, including 20 arrests over the past 48 hours.”
He added “they are pursuing the jihadists from house to house and street to street.”
Al-Muhajir claimed that the Hamas investigation is focusing on where the Salafist Jihadists are obtaining their arms, as well as the membership and command structure of the MSC. Al-Muhajir warned Hamas against continuing its pursuit of the Salafist Jihadists, claiming that the jihadist elements had taken a decision to resist arrest. He said “we do not want confrontation for confrontations sake, but we will resist arrest by all means necessary.”
Hamas has launched a fierce war against the Salafist Jihadist groups operating out of the Gaza Strip, arresting a number of senior jihadist elements – in coordination with Egyptian authorities – in order to investigate possible links to the recent attack on Egyptian soldiers. A number of Palestinian sheikhs and clerics came out to warn the Palestinian factions against dealing with the Salafists, calling on the Salafist groups to control its elements and cut ties with those who are members of armed jihadist groups.
Salafist Jihadist official, Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hamas’s war on the Salafists is unjustified”. He claimed that “we are standing in the face of [Israeli] occupation” adding “our accurate striking of targets has annoyed Hamas, which wants to stand as the embodiment of all action in the Gaza Strip.” He asserted that “this approach will force the Gaza Strip to do something that will have dire consequences.”
The Salafist Jihadist also stressed “we do not throw stones at Hamas or Egypt or any other party…our battle is solely with the Zionist occupation.”
The Salafist Jihadist movement issued a statement on Tuesday from Gaza accusing Hamas of “carrying out a broad campaign of arrests targeting our ranks in order to prevent the firing of rockets towards the Zionist towns near Gaza with the aim of preserving the security of the occupation that does not hesitate to bombard our people and property and continue its war in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”
The statement accused Hamas of arresting a number of Salafist Jihadist figures, including leader of the Jaish al-Umma Abu Hafs al-Maqdisi, as well as senior figure Abu Suhaib Rashwan. It claimed that Rashwan had been interrogated and tortured by Egyptian security officers.
The statement added “we stress that the continuation of this campaign and the leveling of accusations against Salafist Jihadists elements of being behind different attacks…will ultimately lead to dire consequences.”
For his part, head of the media office of the Ibn Baz Charity Association, Majdi al-Maghribi, said that the Hamas campaign of arrests had not stopped at Salafist Jihadists, claiming that two prominent sheikhs had also been arrested. He claimed that “the internal security apparatus of the Hamas government has summoned Sheikh Omar al-Homs and his deputy Sheikh Hossam al-Jazzar” adding that “this move had sparked the anger and disapproval of Gaza’s Salafists.”