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Hamas eases up on Al Qaida in hopes of securing Qatari cash

Special to WorldTribune.com

GAZA CITY — Hamas, desperate for new allies, has ended its crackdown on Al Qaida-aligned militias financed by Qatar.

Palestinian sources said the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip has released scores of Al Qaida-aligned militia members, known as Salafists.

A Qatari flag flutters at a construction site in the southern Gaza Strip.  /AFP

A Qatari flag flutters at a construction site in the southern Gaza Strip. /AFP

The sources said the restrictions on the militias were eased amid Hamas’ crisis with neighboring Egypt over the revolt in the Sinai Peninsula.

“Qatar has promised billions of dollars to Hamas, but the money was held up until the policy against the Salafists changed,” a source said.

Al Qaida-aligned militias, including Army of Islam, Army of the Nation, Jaljalat and Swords of Righteousness, had long been regarded as a strategic
threat by Hamas. In 2009, Hamas killed 22 Al Qaida fighters in a raid of their stronghold in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Over the last two years, however, the Al Qaida militias were bolstered
by tens of millions of dollars in cash and weapons supplied mostly by Qatar.
In May 2013, a delegation of leading Sunni clerics from Kuwait and Qatar,
including Yusef Qaradawi, arrived in the Gaza Strip and urged the Hamas
leadership to release militia fighters.

Since then, the Salafists have sought to draft an agreement to define
the activities of Al Qaida militias, most of them armed with rockets
that could strike deep into Israel. The sources said Qatar signaled it would
intensify aid once an agreement was signed.

The sources said Hamas has demanded that Al Qaida militias refrain from
any attacks on Israel without permission from the Islamist regime. They said
Hamas also wanted to control all weapons supplies to the militias and was
refusing to return arms already confiscated.

So far, more than 40 Al Qaida-aligned operatives were released from
Hamas prisons over the last two months, the sources said. They said Hamas
was expected to keep most of the Salafists in prison until a full agreement
was reached and Qatar relayed aid.

“Within a short period, maybe a month or two, the final accord will be
announced,” Abu Abdullah Al Maqdisi, a leading Salafist cleric, said.

In an interview to the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al Awsat, Al Maqdisi said
Hamas has already eased restrictions on Al Qaida-aligned activities. He said
the proposed agreement would enable these groups to conduct military and
religious activities.

“All parties initially agreed to show good faith until the signing of
the final agreement, and this has now taken place,” Maqdisi said.

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