Members of the powerful Dughmush family in Gaza and Hamas officials clashed Thursday over what the clan claimed was a deal struck to gain the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Johnston was released from captivity on Wednesday, and members of the powerful clan said on Thursday that in line with the agreement, the clan's Army of Islam gang would be recognized as a legitimate Palestinian faction in the Gaza Strip. They also said the accord allowed the clan's private militia to keep its weapons, and denied reports that Hamas had paid a huge ransom for Johnston's release.
Johnston pays 'thank-you' visit to Abbas
However, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said his movement was determined to disarm the Dughmushes.
"There is a decision by Hamas to confiscate the weapons of all clans and gangs in the Gaza Strip," the official said. "It's only a matter of time before the Dughmush clan is also disarmed."
The Hamas official said the Army of Islam, which is headed by Mumtaz Dughmush, was "nothing but a group of gangsters operating under the cover of Islam."
The group has nothing to do with Islam, he stressed. "When its members kidnapped the British reporter, they demanded $2 million and a plot of land from the Palestinian Authority," he said. "But when Hamas came to power, the gang knew that they would never get anything out of us."
A clan member told The Jerusalem Post that the five-point agreement with Hamas recognized the Army of Islam as "the weapon of mujahideen [holy warriors] against Jews, Crusaders and apostates."
He said the deal also banned Hamas and the Army of Islam from attacking each other and called for solving future disputes peacefully.
"The Army of Islam belongs to all Muslims, and not a particular clan or faction," the clan member said. "We decided to release the journalist so as not to give an excuse to the Crusaders to dispatch international troops to the Gaza Strip."
Another member of the clan said Mumtaz Dughmush decided to release Johnston after he received assurances from Hamas that he and his relatives would not be killed. "We wanted to avoid a bloodbath in the Gaza Strip," he said. "It's forbidden for a Muslim to shed the blood of his Muslim brother."
Mumtaz, his brother Mu'taz and one of his top aides, Ahmed Mathloum, are all wanted by Hamas for involvement in the killing of Hamas operatives over the past two years.
Mathloum, who is known by his nickname, Khattab al-Makdissi, was detained by Hamas militiamen earlier this week as part of the movement's pressure on the Dughmushes to release Johnston. In response, members of the clan kidnapped 10 Hamas-affiliated college students in various parts of the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Bahr, a top Hamas official in the Strip, said Mumtaz Dughmush decided to release Johnston when he realized that Hamas was about to use force.
"On Tuesday night, Mumtaz realized that the game was over when our forces surrounded his house in the Sabra neighborhood [of Gaza City]," he said. "He asked for a fatwa from a sheikh stating that foreigners must be protected when visiting Muslims."
Two of the Gaza Strip's top religious leaders, Abdel Hamid Aklouk and Sliman al-Dayeh, each volunteered to issue a fatwa that would pave the way for Johnston's release.