Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas and IS

Ahmed Eleiba reports on the latest series of army raids in Sinai

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Third Field Army, supported by air cover, has launched a major military operation in the Jebel Al-Halal area of Sinai. The operation, which began earlier this week, is targeting a terrorist group ensconced in the caves and rugged terrain of one of the largest mountains in Sinai.

The mountain stronghold is an extension of the range that also includes Al-Hasana, Al-Qasim, Sadr Al-Hitan, Al-Jafafa and Jebel Al-Jiddi and extends over an area of about 60 square km. Its many caves, caverns and crevices, some of which are 300 metres deep, make it an ideal refuge for terrorists and other criminals.

Key terrorist operatives have fled to these mountains to escape the more open areas of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid after curfews were imposed. The caves also house explosives factories. Part of the range is located in Area C, where Egyptian military movement is restricted by provisions of the security annex of the Camp David Accords.

The Third Field Army launched a series of raids against terrorist gathering points around Jebel Al-Halal, killing 13 individuals described as “extremely dangerous” in the course of exchanges of gunfire between the terrorists and the army, according to army spokesman Brigadier General Mohamed Samir.

When Al-Ahram Weekly went to print late Tuesday, raids had been carried out in Al-Azareq, Madaq Al-Jamil, Al-Barth, Al-Qariei and Wadi Amr.

Thirty explosive devices prepared for use along the transport and communications lines of the army were seized and destroyed, along with 50 anti-tank mines and 95 empty mine shells. All the devices were found in the northwestern part of Jebel Al-Halal.

An explosives warehouse was discovered in a ravine in Jebel Al-Halal. The warehouse contained 1,750 kilos of gunpowder, 100 plastic barrels of other explosive substances, five sacks of ammonia nitrate, four hand grenades, six walkie-talkies, an automatic rifle, a Morris rifle, three machine-gun magazines, 174 rounds of 51-mm bullets and a pair of field glasses. There were also 75 metal cylinders of the kind commonly used as casings for improvised bombs. The items were found in the western part of Jebel Al-Halal.

While earlier military operations were carried out in Jebel Al-Halal to eliminate operatives of the Islamic State (IS) group and, before that, members of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Murabitun, Ahmed Kamel, head of the Cairo Security Index at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, says the operation that began this week is the first comprehensive military campaign there. This is a “qualitative operation” meant to purge the area of terrorist elements, he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

In a related development, just days before the operation began, intelligence reports identified IS elements from Gaza that had begun to infiltrate Sinai while Israeli sources said IS operatives were also moving in the opposite direction, into Gaza, to receive military training.

On 18 May Hamas revealed that four extremists had attempted to enter a tunnel to join the IS franchise in Sinai. It identified Mohamed Shahin as the commander of the group. Official Egyptian sources noted that Hamas controls the tunnel in question and the report of the four detainees was an attempt to demonstrate that it was cooperating with the Egyptian authorities in line with “understandings” recently reached between Cairo and Hamas.

But a source in Cairo told the Weekly, “Hamas is not cooperating with Cairo.” He continued, “The measures it has taken so far are merely routine procedures related to the process of controlling the border.”

Several days ago Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories, told the Israeli press that IS elements had used the tunnels to cross from Egypt into Gaza in order to receive military training. He said that a person called Ghassan, who is wanted by the Egyptian police, and another called Said Abdel-Aal, a Palestinian from Rafah, facilitated the crossing.

Hamas refutes the claim. The Anatolian news agency cited Hamas official Ismail Radian saying: “The allegations aired by the Israeli occupation are groundless fabrications. The purpose of such statements is to foment trouble in Gaza and to create a pretext for perpetuating the blockade and the strangulation of Gaza.”

A reliable Palestinian source close to Hamas told the Weekly by phone from Gaza that Hamas is facing a major crisis as its young members flock to join IS.

“[IS] has not made this public since it is using organisations such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as covers for combat training and to benefit from their financial assets. However, according to internal investigations conducted by Hamas many young people now believe Hamas is an apostate movement that has abandoned the holy war.”

The source noted a rising trend among Gazan youth to join the jihadist Salafist movement.

“There are no places for combat training that are not controlled by Hamas,” he said. “This includes camps used by other organisations. When Hamas grows suspicious, trainees escape to Sinai, as occurred last month when three commanders from the Qassam brigades fled ... Some personnel smuggling tunnels are still in operation.”

He continued, “Huge numbers of young people in Gaza are drawing ideologically closer to IS. Hamas does not have the ability to confront them ideologically because it uses the same rites and symbols as IS, such as bai’a’ [the formal pledging of allegiance].”

Among the associations that fund the spread of such ideology in Gaza is the Ibn Baz society, a donor foundation based in Saudi Arabia, according to the Palestinian source. Funding also comes from private individuals in Saudi Arabia, he added. Hamas avoids intervening in the situation due to its own financial position, which has worsened since it lost Iranian funding.

To compensate, Hamas is now levying taxes which is contributing to growing tensions in Gaza. Even Qatar no longer provides Hamas with mush fiscal aid. It carries out projects in Gaza but Hamas makes no revenues from this, which was not formerly the case.

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