GAZA (Reuters) - Radical Islamists in the Gaza Strip said on Tuesday they would resist arrest by forces of the Palestinian enclave’s ruling Hamas Islamist movement, which crushed a splinter group aligned with al Qaeda last week.
Hamas security forces have been checking cars and homes across the territory in a hunt for suspected Islamist opponents since Friday’s battle that left up to 28 dead, residents said.
But Hamas leaders insisted they were not cracking down on rival Islamist ideas, only on those engaging in violence.
The fighting exposed tensions in the territory between Hamas, Palestinian nationalists who won a parliamentary election in 2006, and fundamentalists who reject Hamas’s efforts to reach out to the West and complain because it has not imposed strict Islamic law since seizing full control of Gaza two years ago.
In a statement e-mailed to media from an address used previously by al Qaeda-aligned radicals, a group saying it spoke for fundamentalist, or “Jihadist Salafist,” groups denied Hamas accusations that its members had been behind bombings and other violence but said they would fight if Hamas tried to seize them.
“Chasing our members in the Gaza Strip and storming homes of law-abiding people under the pretext of seeking members of Jihadist Salafist groups will have no effect on us and will not force our fighters to turn themselves in,” the statement read.
“We emphasize that our fighters have orders to resist arrest with all their might.”
Ehab Al-Ghsain, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza, denied Hamas forces were targeting all Salafist groups in the enclave and said they did not intervene in other groups’ affairs “as long as they abide by the law.”
“There is no campaign against the Salafi groups. The campaign had focused on individuals who ... have taken up arms to threaten citizens and to break the law,” Ghsain said.
Abdel-Latif Moussa, known as Abu al-Nur al-Maqdessi, defied Gaza’s Hamas rulers by declaring an Islamic caliphate on Friday, promising to implement Islamic laws in a dramatic public challenge to Hamas’s authority in Gaza.
Hours later he and a dozen or more followers in Jund Ansar Allah, the Warriors of God, were dead after Hamas stormed his mosque and nearby homes.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hamas’s secular opponents, the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, say the violence in Gaza has shown weaknesses in Hamas’s ability to govern.
Hamas officials have accused Fatah of fomenting unrest against them. Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said he would free 50 of some 300 Fatah prisoners before the holy month of Ramadan that begins later this week.
The prisoner issue has been a key stumbling block in Egypt’s attempts to mediate a reconciliation between the rival groups. Hamas accuses Fatah of holding 920 of its members as prisoners.
Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Tim Pearce