English- and Arabic-language outlets throughout last week reported on trends suggesting that radical Islamist groups are gaining a foothold in the Gaza Strip, developments that appear to have been taking place alongside growing efforts by Hamas to rebuild its infrastructure in the West Bank.
Reports have been emerging since the announcement of a Palestinian unity pact – under which the Western-backed Fatah faction struck a deal with the terror group on the formation of a new cabinet – that Hamas had successfully brushed off a year of international isolation and was establishing influence in the West Bank. The ongoing kidnapping crisis that has gripped the area – which both Jerusalem and Washington have suggested is the result of a Hamas has depeened those concerns.
Observers are now worrying, however, that there is a broad ideological shift toward extremism occuring across the board. In the West Bank, the shift would be from Fatah to Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, it would be from Hamas to even more extremist groups.
Last week Palestinian journalist Rasha Abou Jalal, reporting out of the Gaza Strip, revealed that a former Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure had launched a new terror group in the territory:
Those attending the funeral of Palestinian resistance member Nizar Issa, who was killed during an explosion at a resistance training center in the northern Gaza Strip on May 25, were surprised when Hisham Salem, a well-known figure in Gaza, declared the start of a new resistance movement in Palestine and proclaimed Issa as the first martyr in the ranks of this movement.
The new movement is called “Al-Sabirin [The Patient] for the Victory of Palestine,” or “Hosn” by its Arabic acronym. Its flag looks a lot like that of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in form and color — the reason why Salem’s local opponents accused him of promoting a Shiite current — which raises significant concerns for Palestinians about an outbreak of sectarian strife in the Gaza Strip and turning Gaza into a second Iraq.
Meanwhile Arabic-language Palestinian outlets reported Friday that Hamas security officers had dispersed a Gaza rally celebrating military victories achieved by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in which demonstrators celebrated the gains made by the Sunni Al Qaeda offshoot by chanting slogans promising to eradicate Jews.
Evidence that relatively extremist groups are getting traction in either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip is bound to be read against the backdrop of controversies over the recent unity government. Israeli predictions that the new political arrangement would boost terrorism had been brushed off by huge swaths of the international community.
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