Still recovering from the war it started with Israel last summer, Gaza’s Hamas rulers now find themselves confronting a new internal threat: jihadi terrorists who support the Islamic State group and appear intent on provoking Israel in order to pressure and embarrass Hamas.
While these Salafi groups are not strong enough to threaten Hamas, they are making life increasingly difficult for Gaza’s rulers. Hamas accuses them of being behind a series of mysterious explosions aimed at Hamas security posts, as well as recent rocket launches that have drawn Israeli reprisals and threats of tougher military action. A Hamas crackdown on the Salafists killed a wanted fugitive during an arrest raid last week, appearing to erase any hopes of reconciliation in the near term.
The fugitive, Younis al-Hunnor, had been wanted for months, and his death has prompted angry calls for revenge.
“Hamas are infidels,” says a spray-painted message written on the stairway of al-Hunnor’s apartment building in southern Gaza. “No condolences before revenge,” said another message.
Salafists include a number of fanatical Islamic groups that seek to turn Gaza into an Islamic caliphate. These groups have created a headache for Hamas in recent years, accusing it of being too soft on Israel and of failing to adequately impose religious law.
Analysts believe there are about 1,000 Salafi loyalists — too few to pose a threat to Hamas but enough to cause persistent problems. Their clerics deliver anti-Hamas sermons, and Salafi fighters have claimed responsibility for several recent rocket strikes on Israel.