Gaza Salafist leader killed in gunfight with Hamas cops

Authorities sought to arrest 27-year-old man for ‘illegal activities’; shooting comes after Islamic State supporters issue ultimatum

Illustrative photo of a Hamas police officer carrying a rifle in the Gaza Strip (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Hamas police officer carrying a rifle in the Gaza Strip (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A local Salafist leader was shot dead in Gaza City on Tuesday during a confrontation with Hamas police and security officials who went to arrest him, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said, as tensions between Hamas and Islamic State supporters in the Strip ramp up.

The incident occurred in the northern Sheikh Radwan neighborhood with the Interior Ministry identifying the gunman as 27-year-old Yussef al-Hatar, a local leader of a group of Islamic extremists known as Salafists.

According to ministry spokesman Iyad Buzum, the security forces had gone to his home in the morning to arrest him for unspecified “illegal activities.”

But Hatar tried to flee, firing on the forces as he went. He tried to blow himself up with a suicide vest but was shot dead before it detonated, Buzum told AFP.

He had also “tried to booby-trap his house,” the spokesman said.

“Security forces barricaded the house and then intense clashes erupted,” witnesses told AFP, some of whom identified Hatar as being a member of a group affiliated with the Islamic State jihadist group.

Inside the building, security forces found a number of weapons including “explosive belts, explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades,” Buzum said.

Pictures of the weapons were posted on the ministry’s Facebook page.

Islamic State supporters in the Gaza Strip on Monday gave the ruling Hamas movement a 48-hour deadline to halt its crackdown on them.

A statement sent to media on Monday did not say what the IS supporters would do if the crackdown continued. It included a claim of responsibility for a rocket fired at Israel from Gaza last week. The claim could not be independently verified.

Hamas, itself a terror group openly committed to destroying Israel, has in recent months been waging a harsh crackdown on Salafist groups operating in the enclave following a series of unclaimed bomb attacks.

Since last summer, when Israel and Hamas fought a deadly 50-day war in and around Gaza, there has been a growing number of small-scale explosions in the territory as groups jockey for power, but they have rarely been claimed.

They have hit public buildings and private homes and cars, but have also targeted officials of both Hamas and the rival Fatah movement headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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