Armed and masked Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip express their loyalty to ISIS in a video uploaded to websites (Al-Quds, February 12, 2014)
1. In recent months, expressions of support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (hereinafter: ISIS) by Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip have been evident. They are increasing as ISIS amasses victories and achievements in Syria and Iraq. These operatives held a rally in support of ISIS in Rafah and distributed a short support video clip on YouTube. In addition, there are nearly forty operatives in Syria, some of whom probably operate within a separate unit within ISIS named after Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi (a Salafist-jihadi sheikh in the Gaza Strip who was killed in 2009 by Hamas following his announcement of the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Palestine).
2. During Operation Protective Edge, a number of rockets were fired at Israel by Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip, who identified publicly with ISIS and posted a short video clip showing the Al-Qaeda flag (for documentation of the shooting see below). At least two Salafist-jihadi operatives were killed in IDF attacks. Nevertheless, taking a broad perspective, the weight of Salafist-jihadi military operations carried out during Operation Protective Edge is marginal.
3. In our assessment, Hamas perceives Salafist-jihadi activity as a potential risk and as a practical and ideological challenge to its rule in the Gaza Strip. However, at this stage, the Salafist-jihadi infrastructure as a whole does not yet pose a real threat to the rule of Hamas, which possesses the capabilities to suppress any operational or ideological challenge that deviates from the policy dictated by Hamas (as in the past). Recent expressions of support for ISIS in the Gaza Strip were dealt with strongly by Hamas, even though it avoids overall confrontation with Salafist-jihadis.
Expressions of support for ISIS in the Gaza Strip
4. Following the successes of ISIS in northern Iraq in the first half of June 2014, Salafist-jihadi operatives held a support rally for ISIS in Palestinian Rafah. During the support rally, held on June 12, 2014, ISIS and Al-Qaeda flags were waved, and slogans were heard in favor of establishing an Islamic caliphate (the Islamic State) and against the Jews. The support rally was dispersed by the Hamas police.
Support rally for ISIS by residents of Palestinian Rafah, which was dispersed by the Hamas police (youtube.com).
5. Four months earlier (February 12, 2014), Salafist-jihadi elements in the Gaza Strip distributed a video clip to websites expressing their loyalty to ISIS, headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video clip shows 10 armed and masked men, with the ISIS flag in the background (alquds.com, February 12, 2014). The expression of loyalty followed a rift between ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria (for a photo from the video clip, which has since been removed from the Internet, see the cover page).
6. Hamas police quickly dispersed the demonstration of support for ISIS held in Rafah on June 12, 2014 (Amad website, June 14 2014). In addition, Hamas launched an online media attack against ISIS. The Hamas forum opened a special online thread, which included strong condemnations against ISIS, for example: “ISIS operatives are not members of the Jihad, but rather agents who kill more Muslims than infidels.” Another comment: “There is no room for takfiri thought in the Gaza Strip… they are Khawarij. The cure for them is the sword of Ali.” Someone else claimed that “ISIS is killing Shi’ites in Iraq. ISIS is killing Shi’ites and Sunnis in Syria” (Hamas online forum, June 14, 2014).
7. In response to the publication of the video clip supporting ISIS (February 12, 2014), Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip, claimed that there are no extremists affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Gaza Strip. He claimed that the online publications were designed to discredit Hamas and label it as a terrorist organization along with Al-Qaeda (Al-Quds, February 12, 2014).
Rocket fire by Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip affiliated with ISIS during Operation Protective Edge
8. On July 8, 2014, Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip uploaded avideo clip to YouTube documenting several instances of rockets being launched at Israel. The video clip shows at least 10 rockets being launched at Israel in the evening and at night, probably from two or three different sites.
9. The video clip uploaded to YouTube is entitled: “The Salafist-jihadi [movement] in the Gaza Strip – lovers of the Islamic state [i.e., ISIS] launches rockets at the Jews.” The video clip shows Al-Qaeda flags. Its opening scene reads: “Jihad and shooting – sons of the Islamic State, Bayt al-Maqdis [i.e., Jerusalem].”
 Takfiris - those declaring a Muslim person or group of Muslims as infidels, a declaration that means that the blood of individuals and population groups may be spilled. “Takfiris” has become a derogatory name for Al-Qaeda and the global jihad used by their opponents (Iran, Hezbollah). Khawarij - the first sect in Islam that broke away from the army of Ali bin Abi Talib in the battle of Siffin (in 657 AD) in protest against his agreement to turn to arbitration. “Khawarij” has become a derogatory name for groups that have been expressly excluded from the general framework of Islam.