Hamas and Islamic Jihad to form joint command

Partnership may be harbinger of a new Islamist government in the Gaza Strip, expert says; Hamas scrambles to placate Egypt

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (right) and Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Nafez Azzam in 2008. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (right) and Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Nafez Azzam in 2008. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Hamas and Islamic Jihad will form a joint command, a senior Hamas official in Gaza has announced.

Following a meeting between the two Islamist movements, titled “Political Developments and Bilateral Relations,” it was decided that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would appoint four officials each to formulate a “political plan,” Mahmoud al-Zahar wrote Monday in a statement posted on his Facebook page. According to the Hamas official, the meetings between the two movements are ongoing.

“We emphasize the depth of the political relationship between Hamas and Jihad, hoping that the negotiations and meetings between us can continue on all levels,” Zahar wrote. “Hamas has taken serious steps. These are not just theoretical writings.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad had experienced a deep crisis in their relations following the killing of Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit commander Raed Jundiya by Hamas forces in June. Hamas was enforcing a ceasefire agreement reached with Israel following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

The two Islamic movements have also been drifting apart due to Hamas’s decision to abandon its alliance with Iran and Syria in early 2012 and rely more significantly on Qatar and Egypt. Palestinian Islamic Jihad has remained ideologically committed to the Syria-Iran axis.   

According to Hamas daily Al-Resalah, Zahar’s announcement followed seven recent meetings between the two movements.

Just two weeks ago, Islamic Jihad joined Fatah in boycotting a Hamas military parade in the Gaza Strip, noted political scientist Mkhaimar Abusada of Gaza’s Al-Azhar university, making the new rapprochement all the more surprising.

“Since the ouster of [Islamist Egyptian president Mohammed] Morsi and the problems that resulted for Gaza, it seems to me that Hamas is trying to repair its broken relationship with Iran and with the so-called resistance camp,” he told The Times of Israel, noting that Islamic Jihad is the Palestinian movement most identified with Syria and Iran.

“Maybe this is one way for Hamas to reconnect to the resistance camp.”

Rumors in Gaza have it that Hamas is set to form a new government, following statements by Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in recent weeks that support power sharing with other Palestinian factions.

“It seems to me that Islamic Jihad is interested in joining Hamas in administering the Gaza Strip under these difficult circumstances with the whole region in turmoil,” Abusada said.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Tuesday continued desperately to try and convince the Egyptian government that it does not pose a threat to Egyptian national security in the Sinai Peninsula.

According to the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Haniyeh informed the Egyptian intelligence that Hamas had no intention of harming Egypt’s security. On Sunday, an Egyptian army spokesman announced that a large number of hand grenades stamped with the name of the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, were captured in the Sinai.

“Does anyone really believe that Hamas agreed to a ceasefire with the Zionist entity with Egyptian mediation only to wage a battle against Egypt?” mused Hamas political bureau deputy chief Mousa Abu Marzouq on his Facebook page.

“Does anyone really believe that the people of Gaza can be hostile toward Egypt when it is their only outlet to the outside world?”

But Abu-Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades, was less diplomatic in his response to the Egyptian accusations.

“Whoever considers the Palestinian resistance an enemy is a traitor to the nation or a liar and dreamer,” Abu-Ubaida said.

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