News / Middle East

Hamas Enforcement of Truce Complicated by Gaza's Militant Rivalries

An Islamic Jihad militant marches during an anti-Israel military show in Gaza City September 27, 2012.An Islamic Jihad militant marches during an anti-Israel military show in Gaza City September 27, 2012.
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An Islamic Jihad militant marches during an anti-Israel military show in Gaza City September 27, 2012.
An Islamic Jihad militant marches during an anti-Israel military show in Gaza City September 27, 2012.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas pledged to uphold a new cease-fire with Israel on Wednesday, but its enforcement of that truce may be complicated by other armed factions that have increasingly challenged Hamas's authority in Gaza in recent years.

Main Palestinian Armed Forces in Gaza

HAMAS ("Islamic Resistance Movement")
  • Formed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 at the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising)
  • Its charter calls for replacing Israel with an Islamist Palestinian state
  • Won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, ending the secular Fatah movement's dominance of parliament.
  • Controls 10,000-20,000 fighters, around half belonging to its military wing and others providing internal security
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
  • Established in 1980 by Muslim Brotherhood members
  • Dedicated to replacing Israel with an Islamist Palestinian state.
  • Controls about 1,000 fighters, making it the second strongest militant faction in Gaza.
  • Fired rockets at Israel sporadically in recent years.
Salafist Groups
  • Loose network emerged in Gaza since Hamas's 2007 takeover
  • Range from dozens to hundreds of members linked mostly by clan and neighborhood
  • Share al-Qaida's belief in global jihad and establishing a pan-Islamic caliphate
  • Engaged in sporadic rocket fire on Israel, sometimes in defiance of Hamas orders to stop
Secular Nationalist Groups Linked to Fatah
  • Militants allied to the secular Fatah movement
  • Includes small factions such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
Hamas Islamists have dominated Gaza militarily since staging a 2007 coup that ousted secular Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  With an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters in Gaza, Hamas far outnumbers any rival.

After fighting a three-week war with Israel from December 2008 to January 2009, Hamas agreed to an informal truce, ordering its fighters to refrain from rocket strikes on Israelis while cracking down on smaller groups who fired their own missiles across the border.

But that arrangement appeared to break down last month as Hamas militants increasingly joined those factions in launching rockets at Israel in response to what they said were acts of Israeli aggression.

Hamas had been under pressure from the other militants to prove its commitment to armed struggle against the Jewish state, whose existence they all reject.

Islamic Jihad: Gaza's No. 2

Gaza's second-strongest militant faction is Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which controls about 1,000 fighters.  Like Hamas, PIJ was established by followers of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Unlike Hamas, PIJ does not manage social welfare programs for the poor and refuses to participate in Palestinian elections.  Instead, it has focused on fighting Israel with occasional rocket strikes.

Salafists: A Growing Threat

The other main challenge to Hamas comes from Salafist militant groups that espouse a stricter version of Islam and support al-Qaida's goals of global jihad and a pan-Islamic caliphate.

Such groups have become increasingly active in Gaza since Hamas's 2007 takeover, attracting dozens to hundreds of members, including disaffected Hamas fighters.

In recent years, Salafist militants have accused Hamas of neglecting the struggle against Israel, and have tried to take the lead by carrying out their own sporadic rocket attacks.

Salafist groups also have complained about what they see as Hamas's failure to impose strict Islamic law in Gaza.  Some have carried out attacks on sites they view as un-Islamic, including Internet cafes and Christian centers.

Responding to Challenges

One Salafist group, Jaish al-Islam, made headlines by abducting BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007 in a failed bid to secure the release of an al-Qaida cleric detained in Britain.  Hamas later freed Johnston and punished the group for the abduction.

The leader of another group, Jund Ansar Allah, openly defied Hamas by declaring an Islamic emirate in Gaza in 2009.  Hamas retaliated by attacking the Salafists, triggering a battle that killed at least 27 people.

It remains unclear whether Hamas's Gaza rivals will accept the latest Egyptian-mediated cease-fire and whether Hamas will crack down again if they resume their attacks on Israel.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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by: Chuck Hamilton from: Chattanooga, TN, USA
November 23, 2012 9:22 AM
"Hamas Islamists have dominated Gaza militarily since staging a 2007 coup..." A coup? You mean like the ones we have in the U.S.A. every four to eight years? Hamas took power after an election judged by international observers to be one of the cleanest they had seen. People in the Gaza Strip were sick of neglect by Ramallah and the corruption and complacency of Fatah. I do not like Hamas, any more than I like any sectarian, theocratic political group regardless of professed religion (of which I am invariably an ardent foe), but it was a clean election and they won fairly. The State of Israel and Mossad and its coounterparts in the USA hubristically failed in their analysis and did little to support any alternative. Thus red-faced at being caught with their pants down, the IDF, Mossad, and Bibi's government have taken out their chagrin on the people of Gaza, collective punishment for exercising their freedom to vote in violation of every tenet of international law and standards of human rights.

by: David J. Allen from: Denver
November 23, 2012 3:35 AM
Its always the same story once it comes to foreign occupation and colonization. It comes in surreptitious deception and welcomed by the locals as long as they remain unaware of their real intent. Resistance grows with time. Jews were given the same recipe as their masters British had with “East India Company” in India. Indian people were very welcoming at first. English could not sustain India purely due to overwhelming population; it was not the case in Palestine. Secondly, English divide India along the fault lines so to remotely control it which is still enforced; however, it was not a predictive model in case of monolithic Middle East at the time. They needed to change paradigm and they did. Jews were placed pitted against Arabs in Middle East similar to Muslims entrenched against Hindus with help of Jinnah in India are part of the same game. Today the bloody map we see is outcome of few evil minds at the helm of “Great Game’ about two centuries ago. You may not accept it at first but you may eliminate the random noise and selection bias by reading diverse literature; any mention of such literature would be a bias itself!!!
Without any religious allegiance or personal bias, we, the ‘World Community’ needs peace in Middle East for all parties. Today Israel and Syria bomb the innocent people, and use disproportionate force against women and children with utter cruelty. There are no checks and balances in our global structure to deter the aggressor and protect the unarmed civilians. Syrian Libration Army or Hamas are disparate retaliation to such brute force and are byproduct of this dysfunctional global structure we live today.
I remember years back once Palestinians had only catapults and stones to through on Israeli Tanks, then suicide bombing and now long range missiles -- Time has changed. Who to blame?. The media in the west pants Palestinians as terrorist diffidently no matter what they do. Hamas was created to counter PLO by Israel herself but once they win election through a democratic process, in week’s all right wing media in here got inflamed (Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Fox news etc) . That is the image US public carries since them. There was very optimism in Palestinian public and faith in democracy; however, we did not provide them a political solution. We kept sending tanks and jets to Israel without any progress whatsoever.
Palestinian public is between rock and devil and WE are supporting devil without any concession for the people inside fence to live a human life. Come on USA, this is 21st century. Communist China, Russia and even Norther Korea (they learn lessons after their raid on S.Korea Iceland 2 years back) have come out a human face than Israel which is far brutal and cruel in killing people every now and then and forcible occupation for years would never been possible without US support. Read this Boston Globe article for facts. We as country need to show our global leadership or lose the credibility.

by: Lora Lowe from: ok
November 23, 2012 2:47 AM
All in the world should have clean air , water. food. There is no excuse for any war , for any reason. Humans are to be the smartest. So , be it. Freedom for all. And get a life. Make your country good , work together and make it a grand world for all.

by: isaac from: israel
November 22, 2012 11:33 PM
from experiance - i'm giving it 2 weeks...but i realy hope i'm wrong !!

by: mike from: USA
November 22, 2012 9:13 PM
The mighty Israeli army ready to attack defenselessness civilians. In Syrian at least the people have weapons to defend themselves.

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