Ner­vous Ha­mas takes on ji­hadi threat

Lesotho Times - - International -

KRUEN — US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ac­cused Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of wreck­ing Rus­sia’s econ­omy in a doomed drive to recre­ate the glo­ries of the Soviet em­pire and G7 lead­ers said they could step up sanc­tions against Moscow if vi­o­lence in Ukraine es­ca­lated.

At the con­clu­sion of a Group of Seven sum­mit in the Bavar­ian Alps, lead­ers ex­pressed con­cern about an up­surge in fight­ing in eastern Ukraine, where Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists have clashed with Kiev’s troops in vi­o­la­tion of a ceasefire agreed in April.

The strong­est rhetoric came from Mr Obama, who told a news con­fer­ence the Rus­sian peo­ple were suf­fer­ing se­verely be­cause of Mr Putin’s poli­cies.

It was the sec­ond sum­mit of the group of lead­ing in­dus­trial na­tions to ex­clude Rus­sia since Mr Putin was frozen out of what used to be the G8 af­ter Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea last year, a move the G7 con­demned in their com­mu­nique as “illegal”.

“He’s got to make a de­ci­sion,” Mr Obama said of Mr Putin. “Does he con­tinue to wreck his coun­try’s econ­omy and con­tinue Rus­sia’s iso­la­tion in pur­suit of a wrong-headed de­sire to recre­ate the glo­ries of the Soviet em­pire, or does he recog­nise that Rus­sia’s great­ness does not de­pend on vi­o­lat­ing the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and sovereignty of other coun­tries.”

The Krem­lin played down Mr Putin’s ab­sence from the sum­mit, say­ing he pre­ferred “other for­mats” that were more ef­fec­tive and bet­ter re­flected the bal­ance of global eco­nomic power.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble now to get to­gether in seven or eight peo­ple and ef­fec­tively dis­cuss global prob­lems,” RIA news agency quoted Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as say­ing.

G7 sources said the Ukraine cri­sis and how to han­dle Rus­sia had taken up two-thirds of the dis­cus- sion at a Sun­day din­ner de­voted to for­eign pol­icy.

One source, GAZA CITY— Still re­cov­er­ing from a dev­as­tat­ing war with Is­rael last sum­mer, Gaza’s Ha­mas rulers now find them­selves con­fronting a new in­ter­nal threat: ji­hadi mil­i­tants who sup­port the Is­lamic State group and ap­pear in­tent on pro­vok­ing Is­rael in or­der to pres­sure and em­bar­rass Ha­mas.

While these Salafi groups are not strong enough to threaten Ha­mas, they are mak­ing life in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for the rul­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tant group.

Ha­mas ac­cuses them of be­ing be­hind a se­ries of mys­te­ri­ous ex­plo­sions aimed at Ha­mas se­cu­rity posts, as well as re­cent rocket launches that have drawn Is­raeli reprisals and threats of tougher mil­i­tary ac­tion. A Ha­mas crack­down on the Salafists killed a wanted fugi­tive dur­ing an ar­rest raid last week, ap­pear­ing to erase any hopes of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the near term.

The fugi­tive, You­nis al-hun­nor, had been wanted for months, and his death has prompted an­gry calls for re­venge.

“Ha­mas are in­fi­dels,” says a spray-painted mes­sage writ­ten on the stair­way of al-hun­nor’s apart­ment build­ing in south­ern Gaza. “No con­do­lences be­fore re­venge,” said another mes­sage.

On a re­cent day, blood stains were still vis­i­ble out­side the apart­ment, and al-hun­nor’s mother, Basma, fully cov­ered in a black gown and veil, pointed to sev­eral bul­lets holes at the en­trance. “They killed him here. They ex­e­cuted him,” she said.

She said her son, the first fatality in Ha­mas’ month-old crack­down, sup­ported the Is­lamic State ide­ol­ogy, but that he had never acted against Ha­mas. “Even if he pays al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State, what gives them the right to ex­e­cute him?” she said.

Salafists in­clude a num­ber of ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic groups that seek to turn Gaza into an Is­lamic caliphate. These groups have cre­ated a headache for Ha­mas in re­cent years, ac­cus­ing it of be­ing too soft on Is­rael and of fail­ing to ad­e­quately im­pose re­li­gious law.

Ha­mas has gen­er­ally tol­er­ated the Salafists since they emerged in Gaza a decade ago, though there have been oc­ca­sional con­fronta­tions. In 2009, Ha­mas killed a Salafi leader who de­clared an Is­lamic emi­rate in the south­ern town of Rafah. Since then Ha­mas has worked qui­etly to dis­man­tle the groups.

de­scrib­ing

the Ukraine econ­omy as a “catas­tro­phe”, said there was a con­sen­sus among the lead­ers that the coun­try

“Now, they are scat­tered groups, some­times made up of 10 peo­ple who have an ide­o­log­i­cal prob­lem with Ha­mas,” said Ad­nan Abu Amer, an an­a­lyst from Gaza. “They could not find a pop­u­lar in­cu­ba­tor to con­tain them in Gaza.”

But in re­cent months, Gaza’s Salafists have been em­bold­ened by the rise of the Is­lamic State group, which seized about a third of Iraq and Syria and de­clared an Is­lamic caliphate on the ter­ri­tory it con­trols. At the same time,

Ha­mas has been weak­ened by last year’s war while a sti­fling block­ade of Gaza’s borders by Is­rael and Egypt re­mains in place.

An­a­lysts be­lieve there are about 1 000 could not be al­lowed to fail.

Canada’s Stephen Harper and Ja­pan’s Shinzo Abe both vis­ited Salafi loy­al­ists — too few to pose a threat to Ha­mas but enough to cause per­sis­tent prob­lems. Their preach­ers de­liver anti-ha­mas ser­mons, and Salafi fight­ers have claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for sev­eral re­cent rocket strikes on Is­rael. These at­tacks have caused no ca­su­al­ties, but have strained a 10-month-old cease-fire.

Wary of the ris­ing threat, Ha­mas has launched a crack­down on the most rad­i­cal groups, de­mol­ish­ing a makeshift mosque where a preacher had praised the Is­lamic State group, ar­rest­ing dozens of ac­tivists and re­li­gious lead­ers, search­ing houses for wanted men and con­fis­cat­ing weapons.

At night, Ha­mas se­cu­rity forces can be

Sanc­tions Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, the sum­mit host, who has led diplo­macy to en­gage Mr Putin in a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the con­flict, told re­porters that sanc­tions against Rus­sia could be lifted if Moscow and the sep­a­ratists fully im­ple­mented a peace deal struck in the Be­larus cap­i­tal Minsk ear­lier this year.

But she added that Europe and the United States were also pre­pared to toughen sanc­tions. Ger­man of­fi­cials said this would be nec­es­sary if sep­a­ratists seized more ter­ri­tory in eastern Ukraine, es­pe­cially around the strate­gic port city of Mar­i­upol.

Mr Poroshenko told his mil­i­tary last week to pre­pare for a “full-scale in­va­sion” by Rus­sia in re­sponse to an up­surge in fight­ing, which has gone far be­yond the low-level skir­mish­ing seen in re­cent months.

“As we’ve seen again in re­cent days, Rus­sian forces con­tinue to op­er­ate in eastern Ukraine, vi­o­lat­ing Ukraine’s sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity,” Mr Obama said.

“Rus­sia is in deep re­ces­sion. So Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine are hurt­ing Rus­sia and hurt­ing the Rus­sian peo­ple.

“And the G7 is mak­ing it clear that if nec­es­sary we stand ready to im­pose ad­di­tional sig­nif­i­cant sanc­tions against Rus­sia.”

Mr Putin said yesterday dur­ing a visit to Italy that Rus­sia had rep­re­sented an al­ter­na­tive view when it was a mem­ber of the G8 but other pow­ers felt they no longer needed Rus­sia’s view.

Mean­while, likely US Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jeb Bush said yesterday that Mr Putin was a “bully” and the United States and its al­lies in Europe should be res­o­lute in re­spond­ing to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

— Reuters seen man­ning check­points on main roads, check­ing ID cards and open­ing car trunks in search of sus­pects.

Mushir al-masri, a lo­cal Ha­mas of­fi­cial, said such steps are a last re­sort. “We are not in­ter­ested in the ex­is­tence of ten­sion.”

But af­ter the crack­down, par­tic­u­larly last week’s killing of al-hun­nor, a 27-year-old fa­ther of three, ten­sions are run­ning high.

Abu Mo­hammed, a Salafi ac­tivist, said the Salafists “love, sup­port and de­fend the Is­lamic State” and said any­one who op­poses the group is “in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally tak­ing part in the war against Is­lam.” He re­fused to pro­vide his full name, fear­ing ret­ri­bu­tion from Ha­mas.

A visit to al-hun­nor’s home pro­vides a rare glimpse into the in­su­lar world of the Salafists. The apart­ment was filled with books by al-qaida and Is­lamic State cler­ics, and the Is­lamic State group’s black flag is spray painted on the wall.

Else­where, a col­ored poster ex­plains 17 vi­o­la­tions of Is­lam, rank­ing them in or­der of se­ri­ous­ness. The poster urges prayer for less se­ri­ous crimes, whip­pings for more se­ri­ous of­fenses and shows a pic­ture of a sword — sym­bol­iz­ing the death penalty — for the most se­ri­ous crimes, such as ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and witch­craft.

Like many Salafis, al-hun­nor be­gan as a mem­ber of Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing. His fam­ily said he was wounded dur­ing fight­ing against Is­rael in 2008-2009, and had col­lected a pen­sion for wounded fight­ers. Rel­a­tives said he left Ha­mas af­ter­ward over “ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences.”

Another Salafi, iden­ti­fy­ing him­self only as Abu Ahmed, said the ji­hadists are rel­a­tively weak and dis­or­ga­nized. Un­like Ha­mas, which has re­ceived help from Iran and other re­gional al­lies, he said the Salafists re­ceive no weapons or money from abroad.

Wear­ing a black robe and bushy black beard, Abu Ahmed said the group has no in­ter­est in bat­tling Ha­mas since it is a fel­low Is­lamic move­ment.

“Our prob­lem with Ha­mas is that it wants to dom­i­nate, it wants to con­trol, it wants to let ev­ery­body work ac­cord­ing to its own in­ter­est. Ha­mas wants us to fight the Jews when it wants to, and pre­vents us from fight­ing when it has an in­ter­est,” he said. “This is the main prob­lem. We can’t be tools.” — AP

G7 sum­mit par­tic­i­pants and out­reach del­e­gates in­clud­ing Nige­rian Pres­i­dent muham­madu Buhari pose for a por­trait in Kruen, Ger­many on mon­day.

Ha­mas se­cu­rity forces have been wag­ing a harsh crack­down on Salafist groups op­er­at­ing in the Gaza Strip.

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