Gaza's Salafists Angered by Hamas Crackdown
Steps by Gaza's Hamas rulers to crack down on Salafist radicals have created tensions within the enclave that some fear may turn into an armed confrontation, AFP reported on Thursday.
In recent weeks, Salafist groups say they have come under renewed pressure from Hamas over Egyptian allegations they may have been involved in a deadly attack in northern Sinai in which 16 border police were shot dead.
“They have arrested and interrogated about 30 of our mujahedeen (fighters),” Abu Abdullah, who heads a Salafist group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council, told AFP.
"Hamas is keeping the truce with the Jews while the enemy (Israel) is chasing mujahedeen day and night," he said in a statement sent to AFP.
"What hurts us is that people who call themselves Muslims in the internal security forces are pointing the dagger at the chest of the mujahedeen and won't stop their campaign against them," Abu Abdullah said.
"We don't fight other Muslims, but if we have to, we will defend ourselves and our mujahedeen," he warned.
Salafists are Sunni Muslims who promote a strict lifestyle based on the traditions of early "pious ancestors," and in Gaza they have made no secret of their disdain for Hamas over its observance of a tacit ceasefire with Israel and its failure to implement Islamic law.
Salafist groups have been behind most of the rocket attacks at southern Israel in recent weeks. The Mujahedeen Shura Council claimed for responsibility for a Grad missile attack which struck a home in Netivot on September 9.
The same group, which is a terror organization ideologically affiliated with Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for several other attacks and said in a statement recently that “Jihad in the way of Allah against the criminal Jews is a duty through which we get closer to Allah ... it is the (Islamic) nation’s duty to help and support the mujahidin ... the Jewish thieves must know that the Muslim holy sites are being guarded by (Muslim) men who do not sleep ... and will give their blood and property for them.”
Abu Qatada al-Maqdisi of the Ansar al-Sunna group told AFP on Thursday that “Hamas security is chasing mujahedeen who are targeting the enemy.” He added the crackdown picked up speed after the attack in Egypt on August 5.
"This campaign intensified after the attack in Egyptian Rafiah," he said.
Hamas, meanwhile, has repeatedly insisted that no one from Gaza was involved in the attack in Egypt, and has denied there is any campaign under way to crack down on Salafist groups.
Interior ministry spokesman Islam Shawan told AFP "a few" Salafists have been arrested, but only those involved in local security breaches.
"We only deal with those who break the law and breach security," he told AFP in an apparent reference to their rocket fire at Israel in defiance of the tacit truce observed by Hamas.
Salafist groups accuse Hamas of targeting them to curry favor with the administration of Egypt's new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood shares ideological roots with Hamas.
"Egypt is pressuring Hamas to pursue Salafist groups, whether they were involved in the Sinai attack or not," said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science expert at Gaza's Al Azhar University.
"Hamas feels the new Egypt is a supportive force that can be depended upon in the future, so it is keen to coordinate," he said.
Salafist groups, he said, embarrass Hamas with their rocket attacks on Israel and allegations that their militants were mistreated or tortured in custody.
"A clash between Hamas and Salafists is inevitable," he told AFP.