After making significant territorial gains across Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group now has its eyes set on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory ruled by Hamas. In a video statement, issued Tuesday from one of its strongholds in Syria, ISIS accused Hamas of being insufficiently strict about observing the laws of Islam, and threatened to drive it out of the region.
The ISIS video, addressed to the “tyrants of Hamas,” has been viewed as a rare public challenge to Gaza’s ruling Islamist group, which has been cracking down on jihadists in the region. ISIS also accuses Hamas of being too forgiving about religious beliefs and opposes its truce with Israel, as well as its settlement with Fatah, the U.S.-backed rival Palestinian faction, Reuters reported.
“We will uproot the state of the Jews (Israel) and you and Fatah, and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be over-run by our creeping multitudes,” a masked ISIS militant reportedly says, in the video. “The rule of sharia (Islamic law) will be implemented in Gaza, in spite of you. We swear that what is happening in the Levant today, and in particular the Yarmouk camp, will happen in Gaza.”
Extremists loyal to ISIS have allegedly launched several attacks against Hamas over the past few months, and have also tried to complicate matters by shooting rockets into Israel, the New York Times reported, adding that Islamist extremists in Gaza could turn into a bigger threat if they join forces with an ISIS faction in Egypt’s Sinai Desert region.
Anti-Hamas militants in Gaza have also reportedly formed a decision-making council for their group and ISIS sympathizers, and created a militant wing called the Battalion of Sheikh Omar Hadid.
“We will stay like a thorn in the throat of Hamas, and a thorn in the throat of Israel,” a spokesman for groups supporting ISIS said, according to the Times.
However, the rivalry between Hamas and ISIS -- both are deemed terrorist groups by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union -- is complicated. While supporters of ISIS living in Gaza disapprove of Hamas’ attitude toward Israel, the Israeli government has accused the two groups of working together.
“There is cooperation between them in the realm of weapons smuggling and terrorist attacks. The Egyptians know this, and the Saudis,” Reuters quoted Israel Katz, the Israeli intelligence minister, as saying on Tuesday. “At the same time, within Gaza, ISIS (Islamic State) has been flouting Hamas. But they have common cause against the Jews, in Israel or abroad.”