1. Main
  2. Learn
  3. Incidents
  4. Unrest

Gaza Salafists look to IS for inspiration

Gaza Salafists look to IS for inspiration Gaza Salafists look to IS for inspiration

Militants inspired by the Islamic State group's ideology are seeking to benefit from the desperation of young Palestinians to strengthen their foothold in the Gaza Strip, AFP reports.

But the Salafists in the enclave tread a fine line to avoid conflict with Hamas, the Islamist movement which has ruled the strip for a decade but does not share IS's world view.

Leaders of the Salafists, who are adherents of a strict Sunni interpretation of Islam, claim to have 3,000 fighters in Gaza.

While the figure is impossible to verify, experts see an increasing use of IS-style rhetoric to attract support.

"Some groups use the Islamic State label and claim to have adopted jihadist ideology to attract teenagers who have lost all hope," said Assaad Abu Charakh, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

Last week saw the heaviest cross-border clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas and other militant groups since 2014, raising fears of a return to hostilities, though calm has since returned.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza since 2006 aimed at containing Hamas, the Jewish state's arch enemy.

At almost 45 percent, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip is among the world's highest.

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, but Israel and the international community refused to accept the results, demanding Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel and respect agreements signed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The party imposed its rule on Gaza a year later after a quasi-civil war.

- Qassam Brigades defectors -

But some members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, argued elections were un-Islamic and defected to form Salafist groups.

Abu al-Ansari al-Ina, a leader of the "Young Salafist Fighters," one of the major jihadist groups in Gaza, is one such defector.

The priority, he argues, is the "fight against the Jews in Palestine, even if the strategic goal is the introduction of Islamic law in the world."

He says he is under surveillance and took precautions before meeting an AFP journalist.

Two hundred Gazans, including some of his movement, have crossed into Egypt to join the ranks of the Islamic State "despite Hamas' attempts to stop them," he says.

Most used the tunnels that once linked Gaza to Egypt, while others took advantage of the occasional openings of the Rafah border crossing, the only of Gaza’s borders crossings not controlled by Israel.

The vast Sinai desert is gripped by an insurgency that Egypt regularly accuses Hamas of supporting.

Egypt's air force has destroyed a large number of the tunnels and established a buffer zone along the Gazan border.

Abu Sayyaf, military commander of another Salafi movement, insists Israel is the primary enemy.

"Our priority now is to strengthen the military capabilities of our fighters to kill the Jews, the enemies of God," he said.

"We do not want confrontation with Hamas," but "we will not hesitate to fight the infidels or anyone who stands in the way of our fighters."

- Escalation fears -

Hamas security services reached an agreement last year with the jihadists after arresting about 100 of them: in exchange for their release, the groups committed to respect the truce with Israel and not to attack Palestinian or foreign institutions in Gaza.

Though limited, Salafi attacks endanger the ceasefire which Hamas is tactically keen to uphold.

Gazan groups have been firing rockets into Israel for years, with Israel retaliating by striking Hamas positions -- holding the militant group responsible for stability in the enclave.

Many fear the tensions could escalate into clashes between Hamas and jihadi groups if rocket attacks occur.

Salafi jihadists threatened Hamas in online videos, with some claiming the shelling of Qassam bases. "We met our commitments but Hamas did not, they again arrested some of our fighters," says Abu al-Ina.

Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, says the authorities "discuss and are trying to reason" with the imprisoned Salafists, but have no choice but to use force against aggressors.

A Salafist was killed last year by Hamas forces who had come to arrest him.

Some jihadists "were planning to kill their neighbours and relatives," Zahar said, provoking Hamas to step in to prevent "a huge explosion".

Asked about the IS links, Abu al-Ina al-Ansari says they merely consist of "an exchange of ideas but are not organisational".

"We agree with the clear message sent by the Islamic State to the miscreant West: 'Stop your attacks, we will stop our attacks'".

By Adel Zaanoun

Nobel prizewinner proposes a new city in KZ
New abnormal snowfalls expected in Kazakhstan
Huge glacier retreat triggered in 1940s
Hyperloop construction begins in Las Vegas
"Moonlight" to top Spirit Awards nominations
Oil prices fall due to investors uncertainty
New dwarf galaxy discovered around Milky Way
Kanat Islam becomes a top ten WBO boxer
World oil prices continue to rise
Kazakhstan expects warming - Kazhydromet
Merkel to seek fourth term as chancellor
Sale of Tintin drawings set to break records
US, EU stocks fall as markets focus on dollar
Pacific leaders urged to defend free trade
EU warns eight nations on budget deficit
Universiade-2017: Athletic Village is ready
Bob Dylan can't make Nobel ceremony
Messi will never leave Barca - club president
Google, Facebook take aim at 'fake' news
Aerosmith announces Europe 'farewell' tour
Putin, Trump to normalise US-Russia ties
At least 10 hurt in southern Turkey blast
6.2 quake hits western Japan
OPEC agrees shock oil output cut
Israeli ex-president and Nobel laureate Peres dies
Germany blocks WhatsApp data transfers to Facebook
32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe
Youth to the fore as Milan fashion week opens
Xenophobia threatening peace in eastern Germany
Four-in-10 Japanese are virgins: poll
Sweden re-militarises Baltic island of Gotland
China to launch second space laboratory: Xinhua
More than a billion stars mapped in Milky Way: ESA
Boxing: Golovkin eyes Saunders after stopping Brook
Kazakhstan shifts PM to security chief
Oil prices gain despite rising OPEC supply forecast
US to give Philippines military planes
Singapore wages war on Zika-bearing mosquitoes
Italy quake death toll nears 250
Viral photos add fuel to French burkini debate
18 dead as Italy struck by powerful quake
Japan's first lady visits Pearl Harbor
Pokemon's a no-go on Bangkok's roads
July was Earth's hottest month in modern times
Pakistan rock climbers scale new heights