Abdel Latif Moussa Nour al-Maqdessi 2488.
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas said over the weekend that it won't tolerate the presence of rival Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip and warned that its security forces will continue to use an iron fist to foil attempts to establish such organizations.
The warning followed a bloody weekend during which 28 Palestinians were killed and more than 120 were wounded in fierce clashes between Hamas militiamen and security forces on the one hand and members of the hitherto unknown Jund Ansar Allah ("Soldiers of the Companions of God") group.
Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said Jund Ansar Allah was responsible for a spate of bombings against coffee shops, hair salons, Internet outlets and restaurants throughout the Gaza Strip over the past few years.
Hamas won't allow lawlessness and anarchy to return to the Gaza Strip, Nunu said.
"No one will be above the law. All members of this group must surrender and hand in their weapons; otherwise, they will be severely punished," he said.
The clashes were the worst since Hamas drove the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority out of the Strip two years ago.
Journalists in the Gaza Strip said that Hamas's success in eliminating the radical group would consolidate the movement's authority and frighten its rivals.
"Hamas has shown that it won't allow anyone to challenge its authority in the Gaza Strip," said one journalist. "This will certainly deter others from challenging Hamas."
Hamas said its men were forced to take action against the radical group after its leader and founder, Sheikh Abdel Latif Mousa, declared during Friday prayers in Rafah the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip.
Mousa, who is an employee of the Health Ministry belonging to the PA government in the West Bank, was better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Nur al-Maqdisi.
Hamas also said that one of its top military commanders, Muhammad al-Shamali, was killed in the fighting. Shamali, who was in charge of Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, in the southern Gaza Strip, is believed to have been involved in the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
Hamas officials said the armed confrontation ended early on Saturday when Mousa and some of his followers killed themselves by detonating explosive belts that were wrapped around their waists, after they were trapped in his house in the southern town of Rafah.
Hamas banned journalists from entering Rafah or interviewing the wounded in hospitals.
Eyewitnesses said the clashes began almost immediately after Friday prayers at the Ibn Taymiyeh Mosque in the Brazil suburb of Rafah. They said the warring parties used automatic rifles and mortars during the confrontation, which ended early on Saturday.
They said the leader of Jund Ansar Allah and about 100 of his armed followers surprised worshipers by announcing the creation of an Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip headed by Mousa, an Egyptian-educated physician-turned-cleric.
Addressing the crowd, Mousa launched a scathing attack on Hamas, accusing it of failing to enforce Islamic law, Shari'a, in the Strip, and of acting like a "secular government."
He also announced his opposition to attempts by Hamas to "liberate" the mosque from the hands of Jund Ansar Allah and said his men would not hesitate to use force to thwart the plan.
When dozens of Hamas militiamen and policemen surrounded the mosque, demanding that Mousa and his followers surrender, they were met with gunfire from inside the building, said Ihab al-Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry.
Ghissin said that at one stage several gunmen holed up inside the mosque surrendered and handed their weapons over to Hamas. He accused the group and its leaders of trying to spread "weird and dangerous" ideas.
Some eyewitnesses reported that a suicide bomber belonging to the group blew himself up when Hamas security officers tried to arrest him, killing several people.
Mousa and some of his followers found refuge in his nearby house, where they blew themselves up, said Ra'fat Salameh, a senior officer with the Hamas police force in Rafah. He added that at least 90 gunmen belonging to the group had been detained since Friday.
"Life has begun returning to normal and all security activities in Rafah have ended successfully," Salameh said, adding that six policemen were among the dead.