Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been waging a “secret war” against followers of the Islamic State and other Salafist groups in the Strip, according to a recent report in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar.
Officials told the pro-Hezbollah daily Thursday that Hamas in recent months has arrested four Salafist cells in Gaza that were planning to carry out attacks on the group’s security forces and top officials. Hamas forces also confiscated weapons, including long-range rockets capable of hitting major cities in Israel.
The effort was said to have been launched in August, after 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 ruling group.
The paper said the cells were looking for opportunities to carry out suicide attacks against the terror group that rules Gaza while simultaneously seeking to ramp up tensions with Israel. The Salafist cells were allegedly responsible for launching long-range rockets at Tel Aviv during fragile ceasefires between Hamas and Israel, and were receiving funding for their activities from unknown foreign sources.
Gaza officials said they believed the young fighters were radicalized online, and were trying to provoke Israel into launching a broad military offensive in the Strip that would cripple its Hamas rulers.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group avowedly seeking to destroy Israel, has run Gaza for over a decade but it has been challenged by small, still more hardline factions, some of them inspired by IS, that advocate a stricter, Salafist interpretation of Islam.
Last year, the Islamic State’s Sinai branch declared war on Hamas, calling the group and its supporters “apostates.”
In recent months, the groups have launched sporadic rocket attacks into Israel in defiance of an informal truce agreed to by Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid an escalation in Gaza, but he has faced calls for strong action from his electoral opponents.