At least 13 people were killed Friday when Islamist radicals from an al-Qaida-inspired Palestinian group clashed with Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip. More than 100 people were wounded.
Hamas authorities confronted heavily armed members of the group Jund Ansar Allah "Soldiers of the Followers of God" who had gathered at the movement's stronghold, which includes a mosque, in the southern town of Rafah.
Hamas fighters attacked the mosque after the group's spiritual leader, hardline cleric Abdel-Latif Moussa, declared Gaza an Islamic emirate and called for the implementation of strict Sharia Islamic law in the Hamas-controlled territory.
Some of Jund Ansar Allah's masked fighters outside the mosque were armed with suicide belts, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Witnesses and security officials reported an explosion at Moussa's house late Friday, but it was not immediately clear if the blast was set off by Hamas forces or militants holed up inside.
Jund Ansar Allah is one of a handful of small, extremist groups that have criticized Hamas for its cease-fire with Israel and demanded the imposition of a stricter form of Islam in Gaza.
Although Hamas is an Islamist movement, observers say its focus on Palestinian nationalism sets it apart from al-Qaida's goals of broad religious war.
The issue of al-Qaida influence in Gaza is particularly sensitive. Israeli officials have alleged that non-Palestinian militants who previously fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have infiltrated the area.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh denied in his Friday sermon that any non-Palestinian gunmen had taken up residence in the Gaza Strip.Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.