Claimed pre-pullout rocket attacks on Neveh Dekelim, Ganei Tal.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Has al-Qaida started operating in the Gaza Strip? A leaflet distributed in Khan Yunis over the weekend by al-Qaida's "Palestine branch" announced that the terrorist group has begun working towards uniting the Muslims under one Islamic state.
"The Muslim nation has been subjected, through various periods, to conspiracies by the infidels," the leaflet said. "[The infidels] have brought down the Islamic Caliphate, dividing the nation into small and weak states. They also managed to dilute the Islamic and character of the nation."
The leaflet said unity was the only way for Muslims to achieve victory over their enemies, adding that the terrorist group's chief goal was to enforce Islamic law in the entire world.
"Our efforts are now focused on establishing a strong and unified Muslim nation where love prevails among all its members," it added.
The leaflet, signed by al-Qaida of Jihad in Palestine, is the latest indication of al-Qaida's effort to establish itself in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli withdrawal from the area.
On the eve of disengagement, a number of rockets were fired at the former settlements of Neveh Dekalim and Ganei Tal. An announcement claiming responsibility on behalf of al-Qaida members in the Gaza Strip was made by three masked gunmen who appeared in a videotape.
"We stress that this attack comes in the context of the Islamic jihad launched by our comrades in al-Qaida," the masked men said in the statement. They also vowed to step up their attacks on Israel.
Palestinians reacted with mixed feelings to reports that al-Qaida had begun operating in the Gaza Strip.
"The Palestinian Authority is responsible for this new phenomenon," said a resident of Gaza City named Nizar. "Extremist rhetoric in some areas, especially in mosques, produces such cases. The Palestinian Authority is to blame because it is preventing economic development and prosperity, particularly in the refugee camps, where it is easy to recruit unemployed and frustrated young men."
According to Nizar, some areas in the southern Gaza Strip are already beginning to resemble Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban. "This is very disturbing," he remarked. "You see more and more women covering their faces and in the mosques you hear extremely radical sermons. The people there are behaving as if they were members of a tribe in Afghanistan."
Another Gaza City resident, Fadel, urged al-Qaida to stop tampering with the future of the Palestinians. "They're not welcome here," he said. "Their presence will only destroy our lives."
A Palestinian security official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that the al-Qaida members were actually Hamas activists operating under the name of Osama bin Laden's organization. "They are serving the interests of the Israel Right, which has predicted that al-Qaida would start operating in the Gaza Strip after the disengagement," he said.
However, some Palestinians welcomed the news about al-Qaida's presence in Gaza. "This is good news and we welcome al-Qaida in Palestine from the sea to the river," said a Khan Yunis resident named Ayman.
Last week al-Qaida's new on-line television channel branded PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas a "collaborator with the Jews," accusing him of assisting Israel in its war on Hamas.
PA officials expressed fear that al-Qaida was seeking to undermine Abbas by inciting against him through its broadcasts. "This is a very dangerous development," said a senior official. "Al-Qaida and other Islamic terror groups are trying to replace the Palestinian Authority with a radical regime." The new TV channel is called Sawt Al-Khilafah (Voice of the Caliphate), a reference to the Islamic empire that emerged after the death of the prophet Muhammed.