Hamas, beholden to Iran, lets Shiite group operate in Gaza

A-Sabrin movement has condemned Saudi attacks in Yemen, putting the Strip’s Sunni rulers in a difficult position

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting in Tehran with Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. (AP)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting in Tehran with Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. (AP)

For the first time, a Shiite Islamist movement has been operating in the Gaza Strip with full Iranian sponsorship, The Times of Israel has learned. The movement is named “A-Sabrin” — from the Arabic word for patience.

A-Sabrin runs several Shiite charity organizations, which benefit from full Iranian support and encourage the spread of Shiite Islam.

The presence of such a movement in the Gaza Strip is unheard-of, as is the fact that the Sunni Hamas movement – apparently due to the financial support it receives from Shiite Iran — has been tolerating its presence.

Still, the number of Palestinian Muslims, the vast majority of whom are Sunnis, to convert has been limited. (While there have been Sunni families from Bethlehem in the West Bank who converted to Shiite Islam, it a highly unusual occurrence in the Strip.)

The Times of Israel has obtained photographs documenting the charitable works of some of A-Sabrin’s organizations. Signs hanging in the background clearly show the name of Iran’s late supreme leader, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and reference the 1979 Islamic Revolution. One of the signs reads, “Congratulations to the Iran-Jerusalem axis.”

A car drives past a Shiite organization's poster in Gaza, which reads, 'Congratulations to the Iran-Jerusalem axis,' 'Palestine tomorrow' and '36 years of Pride and Independence.'
A car drives past a Shiite organization’s poster in Gaza, which reads, ‘Congratulations to the Iran-Jerusalem axis,’ ‘Palestine tomorrow’ and ’36 years of Pride and Independence.’

The leader of A-Sabrin is Hisham Salem, who founded it last year. Recently his supporters distributed a message to various media outlets in which he condemned the Saudi attacks in Yemen as well as criticizing Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Such proclamations put Hamas in a problematic situation vis-à-vis Sunni countries, since A-Sabrin, which is permitted by Hamas to operate in Gaza, explicitly supported the Shiite Houthi rebels who are being targeted by a Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Over the past two weeks, the charitable organizations’ offices have been targeted in radical Sunni attacks, most of them by groups affiliated with Hamas’s rival, the Salafists. Hamas, meanwhile, has cracked down on Salafist groups and arrested dozens of their members in the past few weeks.

The A-Sabrin movement’s flag is nearly identical to that of the Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah, though it has a different color scheme. Jama’it Ansar A-Sajin, Jama’it Beka’i’at A-Salacha and Dar Al-Hoda are just some of the Shiite charity organizations operating in the Strip with no opposition from Hamas.

According to Palestinian sources, Iran has continued to pump money into Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas’s military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Thus, while Hamas has been unable to pay most of its members their normal wages due to monetary issues within the organization, it has been paying the salaries of its military personnel.

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