Hamas and Salafi jihadists reportedly seeking to 'normalize relations'
In June, The Long War Journal noted reports suggesting that "well-known Islamic personalities from the Gulf, including Qatar and Kuwait, are mediating discussions between Hamas and Salafi jihadists." Asharq al Awsat now reports that these efforts may result in an agreement between Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, and Salafi jihadists.
Leading Palestinian Salafist Jihadist figure, Abu Abdullah Al-Maqdisi, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that there has been significant communication and contact between Hamas and the Gaza Strip's Salafist-Jihadist front over the past months to resolve the disagreements between the two .The Asharq al Awsat report also states that negotiations are currently focused on "an 8-point initiative" aimed at normalizing relations between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in Gaza:
Al-Maqdisi said that these contacts have taken place through well-known Muslim clerics acting as intermediaries and aim to reach a political settlement between the two trends following years of bloody confrontations. He said, "Within a short period of time, perhaps a month or two at most, the final agreement will be announced."
Maqdisi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the mediation put in place an initial agreement to put in place a lasting solution within six months, adding that the negotiations are "heading in the right direction."
Sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that clerics from Kuwait and Qatar visited the Gaza Strip last May, accompanied by well-known Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, chairman of International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS). The Gulf clerics have been involved in seeking an amicable end to the ongoing disputes between Hamas and the Salafists.
The 8-point agreement reportedly includes clauses granting the Salafists freedom to operate in politics, the military, religious advocacy, and civil and social organizations. It also includes an explicit end to the phenomenon of political assassinations and the formulation of a joint committee to deal with any disputes that could lead to new crisis between the two groups.According to Asharq al Awsat, "Hamas is not expected to comply with the last demands, leaving the 8-point agreement up in the air."
In return for this, the jihadist Salafist factions will commit to the ceasefire and other decisions made by the ruling Hamas movement.
The Salafists, however, have also requested compensation for their members killed in the attack on Ibn Taymiyah mosque in 2009, which killed Abu Noor Al-Maqdisi and a number of his followers. The Salafists have also demanded the return of all weapons confiscated from them, and the release of its detainees.
Since the release of Sheikh Hussein al Jo'ayteni, a Salafi cleric, in early August, complaints by Salafi jihadists regarding harassment and persecution have subsided. For example, a Facebook page intended for relatives and friends of Salafi jihadists imprisoned by Hamas, which The Long War Journal profiled shortly after its launch in April 2013, has not released a statement since Aug. 11.
Tensions between Hamas and Gaza's Salafi jihadists
Tension between Hamas and Gaza-based Salafi jihadists is not a new phenomenon, but the past year was particularly notable. Last November, Sheikh Anas Abdul Rahman, a purported member of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), charged that "there is no relationship between the Salafi jihadis and Hamas and its government, except for through security prosecutions and within prisons." The month before, jihadist groups, such as Masada al Mujahideen, claimed that Hamas was responsible for the Oct. 13 targeted killing by Israel of Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, leaders of the MSC.
In November, after a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense, the MSC issued a statement in which it said it was not truly a party to the ceasefire. Despite the claim, the MSC did not seriously threaten the calm that emerged following the mini-war.
In February, Abdullah Jihad al Ashqar (a.k.a. Abu al-Muhtasib al Maqdisi), an official in the MSC, slammed Hamas for resuming its arrests of Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. According to al Ashqar, after al Maqdisi and al Sabah were killed, 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.
In March, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the MSC, said Hamas' arrest campaign was expanding "day by day" and that Salafi jihadists in Gaza needed to be extra cautious. The following month, a number of imprisoned Salafi jihadists began a hunger strike as Hamas continued its arrest campaign.
The arrest campaign caused much anger among relatives and supporters of imprisoned Salafi jihadists who organized a public demonstration "to protest the practices of [Hamas] against our righteous sons who are subjected to torture, humiliation and abuse" in early April. A second public demonstration was organized and held in Gaza City on April 28.
Tensions between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip increased significantly after the targeted killing by Israel of Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well known jihadist, on April 30. On May 1, the ITMC released a statement to jihadist forums which seemed to suggest that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal was set up by elements within Hamas. This matched the claim of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza that suggested that it appeared Masshal had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
On the same day as Masshal's death, Asharq al Awsat reported that Hamas was increasing its efforts to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. Members of Hamas' al Qassam Brigades have been "deployed in the border areas of the Gaza Strip replacing policemen with the aim of preventing the firing of rockets from Gaza," the report stated.
Another report from Al Ayyam similarly stated that Hamas had warned Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that those who fire rockets at the current time will be arrested and that the firing rockets should not occur "without a general national consensus" on the issue.
On May 2, Hamas' Interior Ministry announced the arrest of six Salafists, four of whom were accused of stealing rockets from other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The ITMC condemned the announcement and said those detained had been arrested only because of their beliefs. Five days later, the ITMC accused members of Hamas' Field Control Force of firing on and injuring at least one Salafi jihadist in the northern Gaza Strip.
On May 20, a video featuring Abu Talha al Libi, the sharia official of the Muhajireen Brigade in the Levant, was released by the ITMC. In the video, titled "Fear Allah, O Hamas," al Libi slammed Hamas' campaign against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. According to al Libi, Hamas' current actions are "not the way" of Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz al Rantisi, both of whom were killed by Israel in 2004. A month later, the ITMC released a video of purported Salafi jihadists in Syria slamming Hamas' actions against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. Salafi jihadists "are prevented [by Hamas] from [carrying out] jihad," an unidentified speaker charged.
On June 12, the ITMC announced the arrest of Sheikh Hussein al Jo'ayteni and warned that Hamas may soon try to wage another arrest campaign against Salafi jihadists in the coastal enclave. While al Jo'ayteni's arrest was subsequently denounced by Salafi jihadist supporters, Hamas reportedly arrested the son of Khalid Banat (Abu Abdullah al Suri), a former leader in Jund Ansar Allah. On June 20, supporters of Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip held another public demonstration in Gaza City to protest Hamas' "continued violations" against Salafi jihadists in Gaza.
The following month, the Popular Resistance Committees' al Nasser Salah al Deen Brigades called on Hamas to stop its arrests of "mujahideen" in the Gaza Strip.