(Reuters) - Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas moved to crush an al Qaeda-linked group in the Gaza Strip and said on Saturday 22 people were killed in clashes in the southern town of Rafah.
Here are some facts about Hamas:
* Hamas is an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement and also means “zeal” in Arabic. It was established in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising by its spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in 2004.
* Hamas rejected interim peace accords signed in 1993 between Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. It continues to do so, leading to its isolation by Israel and its Western allies.
* It is formally committed to destroying Israel and putting an Islamic state in its place. Hamas has said it would accept a Palestinian state in lands captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 war in return for a “long-term truce.”
* Hamas spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign against Israel in a wider Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.
* Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, helped by its pledges to eradicate graft in the Palestinian Authority and its fight against Israel. It is also popular because of a network of charities it runs. It formed a government that was placed under embargo by Israel and the West.
* Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after routing rival Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, who was left running the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas said it acted to pre-empt a Western-backed bid to oust the Hamas-led government. Israel had pulled its troops from Gaza in 2005.
* Hamas controls Gaza through a security apparatus that numbers over 13,000 fighters. It also has thousands more members engaged in an armed wing largely designed to fight Israel.
* Its Gaza-based leadership is headed by Ismail Haniyeh who still considers himself prime minister, although Abbas dismissed his government after the Gaza takeover. Hamas also has an exiled leadership, headed by Khaled Meshaal who is based in Damascus.
* It survived a military offensive launched by Israel in late 2008 with the declared aim of halting daily rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian groups had been firing toward Israeli cities.
* Hamas and Israel declared separate ceasefires in January 2009. Israel said it destroyed most of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and dealt the group a moral blow, however it says Hamas has been rearming through tunnels from Egypt. Hamas declared victory, saying it had survived an onslaught by the mightiest army in the Middle East.
* Since the ceasefire, Egypt has been trying to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel.
* Egypt is also trying to reconcile Hamas and Fatah and get the rival groups to agree on formation of a unity government and a date for parliamentary and presidential elections due in January.
* Hamas and Fatah have exchanged the blame for failure to reach a unity deal, accusing each other of mounting political arrest campaigns of rival activists in Gaza and the West Bank.
* A sticking point between the groups is peacemaking with Israel. Hamas is opposed to Abbas’s peace talks with the Jewish state, which he suspended over Israel’s war in Gaza.
* Hamas has shunned demands by international powers to renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist in exchange for recognition and the lifting of a blockade on Gaza that Israel tightened after the group’s takeover of the territory.
Jerusalem Newsroom; Editing by Charles Dick