Arab-language news reports and social media indicate an increasing presence of supporters of the terrorist organization ISIS within the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, the terrorist organization that runs Gaza, has denied (Arabic link) any ISIS presence in the Gaza Strip itself, and rejects that it has any possible connection to the other organization. But Arab media articles and officials interviewed recently have said that ISIS is acting in the strip covertly, and has even fired some rockets (Arabic video) at Israel.
Protests (Arabic link) by ISIS supporters in Gaza have occurred throughout the past year, and reports and discussions on Hamas-linked social media indicate that ISIS has gained support among some members of Hamas itself.
According to testimonies of various figures in Gaza, ISIS works with people affiliated with Salafi jihadi groups, some of whom have returned to Gaza after fighting in Syria (Arabic link). A source inside the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza admitted (Arabic link) that most of the jihadi movements in Gaza are backing ISIS.
A former senior Palestinian Preventive Security official in the Gaza Strip said that ISIS activists multiply and spread quickly, as Hamas is losing its grip on power (Arabic link) in the Strip. A few weeks ago, some jihadi websites published photos of black ISIS flags (Arabic link) flying in Gaza.
A video released last week by ISIS announced the new name of the Egyptian Salafist organization – Ansar al-Maqdis: Sinai branch. According to the video, the Egyptian terrorist organization is right on the border of the Gaza Strip. The video has increased the anxiety of Hamas and other groups in the Gaza Strip that the presence of ISIS in Gaza may continue to grow in the near future.
Hamas leadership has not responded yet directly to the video, but social network pages of Hamas-affiliated figures show discussions of this issue. One Hamas activist wrote on Facebook that if ISIS has become so powerful a factor in Sinai, “It will come and fight those who are pious in Gaza.”
In addition, the Hamas research institute recently highlighted the threat ISIS imposes to Islamists. The Institute report stated:
The spread of ISIS imposes a threat to the development of the Islamic phenomenon, delays the Islamic project and increases the obstacles faced to Islamists. Although the organization’s control declines in some areas, it is expanding in other areas. The organization is in an ongoing process of growth.
In early November an ISIS activist in Gaza called on his organization’s fighters to attack trucks bringing weapons and rockets from Sinai to Gaza. He also accused Hamas of stealing weapons intended for the Salafist Jihad movement and called Hamas activists “traitors.” Hamas is now trying to keep an eye on the border with Egypt and watch the movement of suspected jihadist operatives in order to prevent ISIS activists from getting into the Gaza Strip.
ISIS is trying to bite into the power of Hamas in Gaza, but Hamas does not seem to want to start up an armed struggle with the interloping jihadis. It may rather well be that the Palestinian movement would prefer to open an ideological dialogue (Arabic link) with ISIS.
[Photo: Freedom House / flickr]