Hamas Takes on the Radicals

GAZA CITY – The recent shoot-out in a Gaza mosque between Hamas security officers and militants from the radical jihadi group the Warriors of God brought to the surface the deep tensions that divide Palestinian Islamists. Twenty-two people died, including the Warriors of God’s leader, Abdel Latif Moussa. But Palestinian security officials doubt that these will be the last casualties.

With Hamas in control for more than two years, the Gaza Strip has long been considered much more traditional and conservative than the West Bank. Nevertheless, in Gaza’s political milieu, Hamas is a moderate Islamic group that opposes al-Qaeda-style extremism. But such extremist Islamic groups have been gaining support in Gaza, and Hamas has noticed. The shoot-out in the mosque shows that Hamas will be ruthless in taking them on.

Various Salafi extremist groups have been operating in Gaza for years. Salafis, whose name is derived from the Arabic phrase for “righteous ancestors,” known as “Salaf al-Salih,” insist on a return to what they consider the purity of the practices of the first Muslims.

Hamas has, in the past, cooperated with some of the Salafis, assuming they would stand behind Hamas’s leadership. The Army of Islam joined in the raid that abducted the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. The group also took responsibility for the 2007 kidnapping of the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who was later released after negotiations led by Hamas.