Friction between Gaza's rival terrorist groups

Hamas leaders booted from mourning tent for Islamic Jihad chief killed by Israel

Mahmoud al-Zahar, Ahmed Bahar accosted by PIJ members furious that Hamas didn’t join fight; no protests on Gaza border Friday for only second time since March 2018

File: Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar giving a press conference in 2008. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
File: Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar giving a press conference in 2008. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Senior Hamas members were twice barred Friday from a mourning tent for a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief whose killing by Israel set off two days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Video showed Palestinians affiliated with Islamic Jihad accosting Hamas officials Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ahmed Bahar as they tried to visit a memorial event for Baha Abu al-Ata, who was killed early Tuesday in an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip.

The mourners were apparently angry at Hamas after the Gaza-ruling terror group did not take part in the Tuesday-Wednesday flare-up between Israel and Islamic Jihad, during which Islamic Jihad fired some 450 rockets into Israel.

Islamic Jihad members yelled “out, Hamas out,” and threw stones at their vehicle.

After a second attempt to visit was made, eyewitnesses said Hamas police fired gunshots in the air as rioting broke out. The Hamas officials then fled from the mourning tent in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood.

Hamas security forces later scuffled with the Islamic Jihad members as they tried to arrest suspects over the expulsion of Zahar and Bahar, the Ynet site quoted a Palestinian source saying.

An Islamic Jihad delegation later visited Zahar’s home in a bid to calm the waters, highlighting what a Palestinian source said was a divide within the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group over its future stance toward Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Earlier, Ynet reported the decision to agree to a ceasefire early Thursday led to a major rift within Islamic Jihad, with the group’s political wing supporting the ceasefire while the military wing wanted to keep fighting.

Palestinian sources told the site that officials in the military wing were demanding that the group quit the joint war room of Gaza’s armed factions over Hamas’s decision not to participate in this week’s combat.

Also Friday, there were no protests on the Gaza border, marking only the second time since the so-called March of Return protests and riots began in March 2018 that no weekly demonstrations took place.

According to a Channel 13 report Friday night, the commander of the northern brigade in the Israeli military’s Gaza Division told security officials in southern Israel that despite the ceasefire, rocket fire from the Strip could continue due to internal disputes between Islamic Jihad factions seeking to continue to respond to the targeted killing of Abu al-Ata.

Unlike previous escalations of tension between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, Hamas’s military wing did not actively participate in this week’s fighting, which ended with the announcement of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire early Thursday, though sporadic rocket fire continued throughout the day.

Israel also refrained from attacking Hamas targets. In previous rounds of fighting, Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip; that was not the case this time.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attend the funeral of a fellow fighter in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

From predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a battle in which over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the Israel Defense Forces responded with dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad bases and weapons facilities and on the terror cells as they were firing and preparing to launch rockets.

Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed. Israel said 25 of the fatalities were terrorists; human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.

Hamas’s military wing said Friday one of its members was killed during the flare-up, but did not specify if he was involved in the fighting.

Fifty-eight Israelis were lightly and moderately injured or treated for anxiety.

On Friday schools remained closed in the Gaza periphery, but at noon local councils announced a return to normal life.

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