Supporters of Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip are increasing their protests against Hamas both online and in public as some Salafi jihadists begin hunger strikes to protest their imprisonment by Hamas.
On April 5, a new Facebook page opened for relatives of Salafi jihadists currently imprisoned by Hamas. As of the evening of April 6, the page had only 285 “likes,” but its statements have been promoted on the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center Facebook page, which has existed since August 26, 2012, and on jihadist forums.
The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, is “the official source for releases from the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in the Environs of Jerusalem,” an al Qaeda-linked group.
On April 5, the new Facebook page released a statement announcing that relatives and supporters of imprisoned Salafi jihadists in Gaza were planning to organize a demonstration on April 6 “to protest the practices of [Hamas] against our righteous sons who are subjected to torture, humiliation and abuse.”
On April 6, the protest took place in Rafah; however, according to Agence France Presse, only about 30 people attended before Hamas forces dispersed the demonstration. While AFP said the rally was dispersed without incident, the group released a statement claiming that a couple of the protesters were detained and a journalist was attacked.
In a separate statement, which was shared by the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, the group accused Hamas of imprisoning Salafi jihadists for “many months without any charge or trial.” The statement further called on Hamas to immediately “release our sons who suffer injustice and harassment,” because they are Salafists.
In addition, it called on Hamas to stop its smear campaigns, arrests, and general persecution of Salafists in the Gaza Strip. The group also accused Palestinian factions and organizations of being “complicit” in Hamas’ persecution of Salafi jihadists, due to their “shameful silence.”
The statement concluded by saying that the group plans to take further action and will not cease its campaign until Hamas releases imprisoned Salafi jihadists.
In addition to these statements, Sheikh Hossam al Jazzar of the Ibn Baz Islamic Charity condemned Hamas’ recent arrests of Salafi jihadists. In a statement published on his Facebook page on April 5, al Jazzar said that the arrests “only serve the interests of the Jews.” Al Jazzar himself was summoned for questioning by Hamas in September 2012. And on April 6, Sheikh Nael Mosran similarly called on Hamas “to stop the arbitrary arrests of Salafi youth,” in a statement published on his Facebook page.
Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have long complained about Hamas’ targeting of their members. In February, Abdullah Jihad al Ashqar (a.k.a. Abu al-Muhtasib al Maqdisi), an official in the MSC, slammed the arrests of Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. According to al Ashqar, after Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, leaders of the MSC, were killed in an air strike by the Israeli Air Force in October 2012, Hamas eased up its pressure on Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip.
In fact, in early December, Hamas reportedly released Abu Hafs al Maqdisi, the leader of a Salafi jihadist group known as Jaish al Ummah (Army of the Nation). But after a few months, “the policy of detaining returned, as did pursuing, kidnapping, and storming homes, and then capturing and torturing in the prisons of the so-called domestic security agency,” al Ashqar contended.
Last September, Hamas reportedly arrested over 20 Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. In response, Abu Abdul Muhajir, a leading Salafi jihadist in Gaza, denounced Hamas for its “unjustified” campaign against Salafi jihadists. A couple months later, Sheikh Anas Abdul Rahman, an official in the MSC, similarly complained that “there is no relationship between the Salafi Jihadis and Hamas and its government, except for through security prosecutions and within prisons.”
More recently, the MSC called on “the reasonable people in the Hamas Movement to pressure their government security agencies to release the Salafist Jihadist mujahideen who are held unjustly in their prisons.”
Hamas recent campaign against Salafi jihadists
Over the past couple weeks, Hamas has carried out a number of arrests of Salafi jihadists, according to jihadist communiqués. In late March, Hamas forces reportedly arrested two Salafi jihadists in Zawaida, raided the home of a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, and kidnapped a Salafi jihadist in Rafah. Press reports suggest that the two jihadists in Zawaida were connected to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), which took credit for a rocket attack on Israel on March 21.
On March 30, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center warned on its Facebook page that preparations were being made by Hamas to launch a mass campaign of arrests against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip.
In the past week, the campaign appears to have intensified in response to rocket attacks by the MSC against Israel. According to the MSC, the rocket fire was in response to the recent death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Hamas operative. Hamdiyeh, whom Hamas praised for supplying “the Mujahideen with weapons and explosives,” died of esophageal cancer at an Israeli hospital on April 2.
The following day, the MSC said it had fired six additional rockets toward Israeli territory. Following the rocket attacks, a Salafi jihadist was reportedly detained by Hamas forces near Khan Yunis. The statement from the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, which announced the arrest, accused Hamas of carrying out an “extensive campaign” against Salafi jihadists in Gaza.
Despite these allegations, Hamas’ Interior Ministry recently denied that it has made arrests in recent days for “resistance against the occupation [Israel].” A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said, “[o]ur security apparatus is part of the resistance and does not arrest anyone who resists the occupation. On the contrary, we encourage resistance.”
Israeli media outlets have recently reported, however, that Hamas is under heavy pressure from Egypt to quell the rocket fire into Israel and arrest those responsible. And according to the Al Quds newspaper, Hamas recently relayed a message to Israel via Egypt claiming that since the rocket fire, it has tried to control the situation by tightening border areas, calling on factions to abide by the ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense, and arresting Salafi jihadists responsible for the rocket attacks.