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Hamas: Rafah clashes terminated, 22 confirmed dead

Aug. 15, 2009 10:00 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 17, 2009 10:43 A.M.)
Gaza – Ma’an – The “security operation” against Salafi group Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers for God) in the southern Strip was “terminated” Saturday at noon following the confirmed slaying of the group’s leader by de facto Hamas government forces.

Hamas security men remain deployed in the area, which is still closed to the public, interior ministry spokesperson in Gaza Eyhab Al-Ghussein said. He also confirmed 22 were killed during the clashes, including one Hamas leader, six de facto police officers and six bystanders, two of which were young girls. Medics identified one of the girls as eight-year-old Shayma Jabir Al-Aloul.

Commenting on the incident Al-Ghuhessein stressed Jund Ansar Allah is a “group of individuals rather than an organization. They don’t have any contact with the outside world, their ideologies are perverted as they accused Gazan people of infidelity [to Islam], and carried out several attacks on cafés and wedding parties.”

Leader of Jund Ansar Allah was killed alongside one of his aides in a Rafah home following an overnight battle between the ultra-Islamist group and Hamas police, sources confirmed Saturday morning. At that point Hamas sources said they believed the group was neutralized by the death of the leader.

Calling Hamas too liberal, heavily armed militants with Jund Ansar Allah and hundreds of supporters took over a Rafah mosque following Friday prayers. The group declared the mosque, and the city of Rafah, an Islamic Emirate that would fall under theocratic rule.

According to Al-Ghuhessein Hamas clerics had contacted those affiliated with the group, seeking to “convert them to moderate Islam,” but they refused. He said when forces learned of the mosque takeover Friday afternoon authorities “tried to contact them and settle the issue peacefully,” but their militants opened fire at police officers provoking clashes. He confirmed the group was primarily based in Rafah.

According to Hamas authorities, Jund Ansar Allah is believed to have been responsible for recent café, salon and CD store bombings in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas sources said they were also behind the bombing of a Khan Younis wedding of members of the Dahlah family, a Fatah-affiliated clan, one of whose members, Mohammed Dahlah, was recently elected to the Fatah Central Committee.

By nightfall de facto Hamas government police had launched an operation to roust the group from the mosque and undercut their military abilities. Locals said a large blast was heard during clashes between police and the armed group, believed to be set off by Jund Ansar Allah fighters.

Other confirmed casualties include aide to Abdul Latiff Moussa, Abu Abdullah As-Suri (the Syrian). Another 120 were injured in the overnight operations, which saw de facto police and security men bomb a home in Rafah believed to be affiliated with Jund Ansar Allah. It was not immediately clear whether the home attacked Saturday morning was the same location as the overnight attack, or if it was a separate location, near the alleged smuggling tunnel operated by the group.

The group has ideological ties to Al-Qaeda, though no formal links were reported. The Gaza-based de facto Interior Ministry issued a statement late Friday night, calling Jund Ansar Allah "mentally ill." It said officials had seized weapons from the group and would prosecute its members.

The last major event involving the group occurred in July, when members barricaded inside a building in Khan Younis ultimately surrendered to de facto police. A month earlier, the group was implicated in a failed operation aimed at attacking Israel on horseback.

Jund Ansar Allah leader Abu Moussa announced the start of theocratic rule across Palestine, beginning in Rafah. Abu Moussa vowed that his organization would soon begin implementing Islamic law, a proposal counter to Hamas' efforts, with recent exceptions, to maintain the secular Palestinian legal code.

"We announce the birth of the Islamic emirate," declared another Jund Ansar Allah official, using a term popular with Al-Qaeda that describes clerical rule throughout what the organization views as Islamic land. The same speaker was photographed bearded and dressed in a red robe, surrounded by four masked men armed with assault rifles. One was pictured wearing what appeared to be an explosive belt.

Among the organization's complaints against Hamas include its refusal to institute Islamic law on Palestinians in Gaza, as well as its ceasefire with Israel, which was declared unilaterally in mid-January.

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