RAMALLAH - The Islamic resistance movement Hamas' rule of Gaza faces protracted
political and military opposition from within Gaza, other Palestinian
territories and abroad.
On August 15, a guerrilla group put down the fiercest military challenge to
Hamas rule since it took over the coastal territory in the June 2007 coup when
it overthrew a Palestinian Authority (PA)-led unity government. Hamas had
earlier won legislative elections in Gaza in 2006.
After midday prayers on August 14, members of the extremist group Jund Ansar
Allah, meaning "Soldiers of God", and allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, barricaded
themselves inside a mosque filled with hundreds of worshippers and supporters
in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
The leader of the Salafist group Abdul Latif Moussa, surrounded
by a number of armed and masked men including one with a suicide belt, declared
the town an Islamic emirate that would fall under theocratic rule independent
of the Hamas government.
Hamas security men flooded the area, and after several gun battles which lasted
through the night and left 22 dead, re-established authority in the town.
Six bystanders were killed in the gunfire, six Hamas men lost their lives, and
10 extremists including Moussa were killed. His house was later blown up.
According to Hamas authorities, Jund Ansar Allah has been behind a number of
kidnappings and bombing attacks on beauty parlors, CD stores, Internet cafes
and Christian sites, which they perceive as immoral.
The group in turn has accused Gaza's de-facto government of failing to
establish Islamic law in the coastal territory, and giving up jihad against
Israel by enforcing a ceasefire.
Its members are proponents of a return to what they interpret as the roots of
Islam, or Salafism, as advocated by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.
Israeli security has stated that there are a number of al-Qaeda linked
extremist groups in Gaza which are funded and trained abroad, and which then
slip back into the strip through the smuggling tunnels that link Gaza with
"This is not just a few disgruntled extremists, but the tip of the iceberg and
a sign of growing extremism in Gaza which is only going to get worse," said Dr
Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah.
"The Israelis have shot themselves in the foot with the crippling siege of
Gaza," Awad told Inter Press Service (IPS). "The suffering and hardship endured
by Gazans has not moderated them politically. When people have lost everything
and have no hope, they turn to revenge.
"In the future, Israel will regret not negotiating with a more moderate Hamas
government when these extremists strengthen their grip on power."
Israel helped nurture Hamas when the organization was first established in 1987
as a bulwark against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
When the PLO-affiliated PA came to power in 1994 following the Oslo Accords,
Israel weakened it with military attacks and mass arrest campaigns. This, in
turn, strengthened Hamas.
Despite negotiation attempts by more moderate elements within Hamas, Israel
continues the Gaza blockade, making conditions ripe for extremist groups to
While al-Qaeda-linked extremists pose a real threat to Hamas rule, the
organization is also facing renewed political opposition from Fatah, affiliated
to the PA which rules the West Bank.
The PA lost the 2006 legislative elections to Hamas following accusations of
corruption. However, Fatah emerged strengthened from its recently held Sixth
Revolutionary Conference in Bethlehem where a new and more credible leadership
According to a poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and
Survey Research, an estimated 52% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah leader
and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if elections were held today.
This compares to 38% who would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The poll
also indicated that respondents believed that Fatah would become stronger and
more unified in the aftermath of its conference.
"Hamas lost a lot of popularity when it refused to allow trapped Fatah leaders
in Gaza to attend the conference," said Awad.
Contributing to Hamas' fall in support has been the increasing abuse of human
rights and the stifling of civil liberties.
Last month, a prominent Hamas judge in Gaza said that from September all the
territory's female lawyers would be required to cover their hair and wear long
gowns under their billowing judicial gowns.
Hamas was also said to be formulating a moral code of conduct which would
prevent gender mixing in large crowds in public places amongst other things.
"This was the opinion of one minister who had not consulted with the rest of
the Hamas government. Most of us are against this and the matter is still being
appraised," Dr Ahmed Yousef, political advisor to Haniyeh told IPS.
It would appear that Hamas' political survival is contingent on its ability to
adapt to challenges on the ground and to be more flexible politically in regard
to the international community and negotiations with the PA.
Awad believes Hamas has blanket policies and ideologies, and lacks the ability
to deal with day-to-day realities including negotiating with the PA and with
regional leaders, and in recognizing Israel's existence as a political fact.
"Hamas lacks good political tacticians. Using the suffering in Gaza to its
political advantage is one of its leverage points. The international community
is not going to stand by and watch Gazans starve to death and Hamas knows
this," said Awad.
Professor Moshe Maoz from Jerusalem's Hebrew University believes that the more
pragmatic and moderate elements in Hamas are reviewing their political
"Hamas has developed a relationship of sorts with some members of the
international community, and they will explore this. They will also probably
become more pragmatic in talks with the PA," said Maoz.