Gaza: Hamas joins Egyptian crackdown on Salafists

Hamas security forces on Aug. 15 arrested a senior Salafi sheikh who was injured in an Israeli airstrike in June . Sheikh Abu Suhaib Rashwan was detained as he left a hospital, where he was recovering from wounds sustained in the June 20 airstrike in Rafah. The missile strike on a motorcycle wounded Rashwan and a companion, Ghaleb Ermilat, who the IDF described as a “global jihad operative.” Israel accused the two of being behind an ambush along the Egyptian border two days earlier that killed an Israeli civilian, and said they were members of Tawhid wal Jihad, a “global jihad terror movement that is responsible for ongoing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.”

Gaza Salafi leader Abu Abdullah al-Mujajir said Hamas forces had cracked down on Salafis in Gaza since the attack in Egypt’s Sinai in which 16 Egyptian officers were killed on Aug. 5. Several Salafis have been summoned for interrogation since the incident, he said. “We are not responsible for the Sinai attack,” he said, adding that Salafis in Gaza aimed “to fight Israel.”

Salafi Jihadi, the biggest jihadist group in Sinai, has also denied involvement in the incident.  “We have never raised our weapons against the Egyptian army,” the group said in a statement, adding that its true fight was with the “Zionist enemy,” Israel. The statement said other jihadist groups, which it did not name, were behind past attacks on Sinai’s gas pipeline that delivers gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan.

This isn’t Hamas’ first crackdowns on Salafis since it took control of Gaza in 2007. It has carried out several arrests of Salafi militants in the past, notably following attacks on women and Christians. In 2009, Hamas forces raided a mosque and killed 28 people after a Salafi imam declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza. (Ma’an News Agency, AFP, Aug. 18)

Egyptian police and army officers meanwhile detained five, including Palestinians, in two military operations after dawn on Aug. 18 in the northern Sinai. Forces arrested two Palestinians who had been under surveillance for some time in the Safa district of Sinai city el-Arish, Egyptian security officials said. Egyptian forces also detained a man suspected of firing 15 rocket-propelled grenades at Egyptian forces during the storming of a house in Sheikh Zuwaid earlier in the week. Three police and a soldier were wounded when their vehicles came under fire from RPGs during the operation. A Sinai-based network the Salafi Jihadi Group warned the Egyptian army last week that the crackdown on jihadists in the area would force it to fight back. (Ma’an News Agency, Aug. 18)

AIn other Gaza news, an Israeli soldier accused of killing two women—a 64-year-old mother and her grown daughter—who waved a white flag during Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 offensive in Gaza, reached a plea bargain with the military advocate general this week, and will be jailed for 45 days. The soldier, identified only as Staff Sgt. S of the Givati Brigade, had his charges reduced from manslaughter to illegal use of a weapon in exchange for his guilty plea. (Ha’aretz, YNet, Aug. 12)