Hamas has declared a state of emergency and on Wednesday morning began arresting supporters of Islamic State and other Salafist organizations in the Gaza Strip en masse, hours after three policemen were killed in a series of blasts in the coastal enclave, according to Palestinian reports.
An unnamed security source told the BBC that the two explosions that hit police checkpoints near Gaza City on Tuesday evening were the result of suicide bombings carried out by IS and that one of the attackers had previously been detained by Hamas.
Hamas, the Islamic terrorist organization that controls Gaza, has frequently come into conflict with supporters of more extreme jihadist organizations in the strip and recently undertook operations against members of IS. Last year, the group’s Sinai branch declared war on Hamas, terming the group and its supporters “apostates.”
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said the first explosion occurred next to a police checkpoint south of Gaza City.
“Two members of the police were martyred as a result of an explosion that took place near a police checkpoint at the Dahdouh intersection,” Hamas-run Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm said.
The health ministry said two people were killed and a third man suffered serious injuries in the explosion. The ministry initially blamed the blast on Israel, but later retracted the claim. The third man later died of his injuries.
The dead were identified as Salameh al-Nadim, 32, Wael Khalifa, 45, and Alaa al-Gharbali, 32, all traffic policemen.
Minutes later, another blast hit a second police checkpoint west of Gaza City, wounding three people, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.
“Mobilization of all police and security forces has been declared to follow-up on security developments in the aftermath of the two explosions,” said al-Bozm.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on people to be patient while the investigation was ongoing and not to spread rumors.
“In a short amount of time, the situation will be clear to our people, who we urge, as we have regularly done, to maintain its cool, especially as we are supported by strong security forces that are able to handle the circumstances and deal with it in a forceful and wise manner,” he said.
“We need to support our security forces in restoring security and order and foiling this damned plot,” he said.
An interior ministry statement called the bombings isolated incidents and said that they had initial information on the identity of the attackers, but did not release further details.
“We reassure our people the security situation is stable in the Gaza Strip and affirm that these suspicious explosions–that seek to cause confusion in the internal arena–are isolated events that will not impact this [stable security] situation,” the statement said. “The wicked hands that perpetrated this crime will not evade punishment.”
Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.