Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip have arrested four senior Islamic State members, including the group’s leader in the coastal enclave, the terror group said Saturday.
“This morning, security forces arrested Nour Issa, 27, who is a leader of the deviant thought movement and is from Bureij Camp in central Gaza, along with others,” a Hamas source said, using a phrase routinely used to refer to jihadists, including IS.
The internal security service confirmed on its Facebook page that it had made a number of arrests.
“One of the leaders of the deviant thought has been arrested along with others,” it said, without giving a name.
Issa and three others were holding a meeting in the house of one of the members in the southern Gaza city of Rafah when they were arrested. A large stash of weapons were also found, Hebrew media reports said.
Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but it has been challenged by small hardline factions, some of them inspired by IS, who advocate a stricter, Salafist interpretation of Islam.
Some have carried out sporadic rocket attacks into Israel in defiance of an informal truce agreed by Hamas.
In August, a suicide bomber allegedly linked to IS killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza along the border with Egypt, in a rare attack against the Islamists.
The arrests also come amid attempts by Hamas and the Fatah party to resolve a decade-long split and see the Palestinian Authority return to rule over Gaza. Talks are set to continue in Egypt next week.
Egypt has been key to facilitating the deal after Hamas and Cairo mended long-strained ties.
Relations between Hamas and Egypt were hampered, particularly over Hamas’ support for Islamic militants fighting Egypt in the Sinai and Hamas ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
As part of the rapprochement, Hamas has been trying to convince Egypt that it is a reliable security partner. It has deployed more troops along the border with Egypt’s northern Sinai region, where the Egyptian military is battling the so-called “Sinai Province” of IS.
Hamas also recently made a gesture toward Egypt with a new policy document that dropped its longtime association with the Muslim Brotherhood and identified itself as a Palestinian movement fighting only against what it calls Israeli occupation.
Egypt also controls the enclave’s southern border, which is mostly closed for the 2 million residents of Gaza as part of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Israel and Egypt have enforced the blockade, citing security reasons, since the Hamas terror group seized control of Gaza a decade ago.
Hamas previously had close cooperation with IS.
Hamas had refused to crack down on smuggling by IS through tunnels run by its members under the Gaza-Sinai border. Instead, the Palestinian terror group has looked to this activity as a source of income, taxing imports.