In a recent sermon, a Gaza imam brandished an assault rifle before worshipers and declared that such weapons would allow Palestinians to build a caliphate in the region, an “Islamic State.”
In the August 29 sermon, a video of which was published over the weekend by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Sheikh Iyad Abu Funun held up the weapon and cried: “The [Israelis] came to conquer the Gaza Strip. Did they succeed in doing so? No, they did not. They came to take these weapons away from us. Do I still hold this weapon or not?”
“They came to take our guns, but the guns remain in our hands,” he continued. “They did not manage to take a single gun, a single bullet or a single rocket from us. They came to destroy the tunnels. Did they destroy them? They came to stop us from launching rockets at them. Did the rockets stop? They came to make us surrender. Did we surrender?”
Throughout the speech worshippers intermittently interrupted with cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great).
Abu Funun went on to say that Israel had sought to humiliate and break the people of Gaza but had failed to do so.
“This war has proven that these weapons are our only means to liberate our lands,” he said. “These weapons are our only means to establish the Islamic state…Muhammad’s caliphate.”
“They will take our souls before they take our weapons!” he cried.
According to MEMRI, Abu Funun served nine years of a 29-year sentence in an Israeli prison before being released to the West Bank in 2011 as part of the deal to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was abducted by Hamas in a raid into Israel in 2006. Abu Funun was later rearrested but went on a hunger strike and was finally deported to Gaza in mid-2013.
Israel and Gaza-based terror groups including Hamas fought a 50-day conflict in July and August that claimed the lives of approximately 2,100 Palestinians — about 1,000 of them combatants, Israel says — and 72 Israelis. The battle ended on August 26 with an open-ended truce agreement in which Israel said it would ease restrictions on movement of personnel and goods through the two crossings into Gaza which it controls. Core issues of dispute were set to be negotiated in indirect talks in Cairo after a month.
Under the terms of the deal, the parties agreed to resume the Egyptian-brokered negotiations to discuss, among other issues, a Hamas demand for a port and an airport, a prisoner swap and Israel’s insistence on Gaza terrorists disarming. Israel has ruled out removing controls over access to Gaza, as has Egypt, unless or until Hamas disarms, which Hamas refuses to do.
Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and much of the international community, seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007.