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Friday, July 18, 2008

Salafi fundamentalists competing with Hamas for hearts and minds

GAZA CITY — The Hamas regime has been alarmed by a new Islamic revivalist movement that eschews politics.

The movement, known as Salafis, was said to receive funds from the Gulf as well as sources within the Gaza Strip. The Salafis, who appear to resemble the Taliban and Al Qaida, have established a mosque and religious school and were believed to number up to 50,000.

"They have become the new rival of Hamas and are supported by very powerful sheiks in the Gulf," a Palestinian security source said.

The source said the Salafis have become established in every major town in the Gaza Strip. Salafi members, dressed in robes and long beards, spend their evenings going from door to door in efforts to recruit Muslims to attend mosque on a daily basis. The Salafis have their own mosque, A-Sahabah, as well as an elementary and high school in Gaza City, Middle East Newsline reported.

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The Salafis have urged Gazans to live a modesty lifestyle and throw away their television, alcohol, pictures and cosmetics. Recruits to the movement have been encouraged to spread these principles and influence mosques, schools and the work place.

Hamas has sought to limit the Salafi influence. Palestinian sources said Hamas security forces raided mosques under the influence of the Salafis.

Several militias have derived their inspiration from the Salafis. They include the Army of Islam and the Army of the Nation -- the former sponsored by the Dughmoush clan and the latter comprised of former members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinian sources said the Salafis were said to have participated in or inspired a series of strikes on Internet cafes and cellular phone stores around Gaza City. They said Salafis were also involved in a grenade strike at a United Nations-sponsored festival in Rafah in 2007.

"Hamas has been very careful in dealing with the Salfis, fearing that any crackdown will anger its supporters in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates," the source said.

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