Killing of Italian activist highlights challenges Hamas faced: analysts

15:14, April 18, 2011      

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Palestinians carry a mock coffin during a protest against the killing of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza City April 15, 2011. The Islamic Hamas movement on Friday vowed to arrest all suspects involved in the kidnapping and killing of Arrigoni in the Gaza Strip under its control. (Xinhua/Ashraf Mohammed)

by Fares Akram

The kidnapping and killing of a pro- Palestinian Italian activist in the Gaza Strip days ago shed light on challenges faced by Hamas on dealing with the radical groups in the enclave, said analysts.

Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, was found dead in a house a few hours after Al-Tawheed and Al-Jihad (monotheism and holy war), a radical Al-Qaida-inspired group, said in a video that it has abducted the activist.

Al-Tawheed and Al-Jihad wanted Hamas rulers to release a leader of the group who was arrested in March, it is one of a handful of Jihadist groups which pursue extremist understanding of Islam.

The kidnapping is not the first serious challenge the Jihadists put for Hamas. In August 2009, Hamas killed a leader of Jund Anssar Allah (Warriors of God's Supporters) after he defied Hamas' rule and declared an Islamic emirate in the southern city of Rafah.

Talal Awkal, a Gaza-based analyst, said the kidnapping and killing of the activist, who has mostly stayed in Gaza since 2008, was a result of overconfidence in security and mis-evaluation of the Salafists' strength by Hamas.

Meanwhile, Hani Habib, another political analyst, said the Jihadists tried to show that Hamas is no longer sincere to the more hardline conception of Islam from which both Hamas and the Salafists derived their ideologies.

He blamed Hamas for focusing on the strict principles of Islam and planting this understanding in enthusiastic people for years. "The ideology of Salafists agrees clearly with that of Hamas... It is a culture Hamas established" over the years before its winning of the legislative elections in 2006.

In June 2006, shortly after Hamas won the elections, its relation with the Salafists was still good. In that month, the Army of Islam, a Jihadist group, joined Hamas in capturing an Israeli soldier near Gaza.

However, after completely taking over Gaza, "Hamas has a visible contradiction with the Salafists," who try to shake its governance and distort Hamas' claims that it achieved an unprecedented state of safety and security in the enclave, said Habib.

For Hamas, which is still deemed by the West as a terrorist organization, it is an opportunity to tell the outside world that the Islamic movement can contribute to restricting the spread of more radical groups in the region.

Mohammed Awad, Hamas minister of foreign affairs, said Sunday that his government is still hunting down those who killed the Italian activist, describing them as "ideologically errant individuals" and promising to apply the highest punishment against them. He noted that two suspects have been arrested, but those who directly committed the crime are still at large.

A report last month said that isolating of the Gaza Strip and ignoring Hamas have encouraged the appearance of more radical Muslim groups in the territory.

According to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the Jihadist groups emerged in Gaza in 2005, after Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from the coastal enclave. Most of their members had been Hamas loyalists, but they changed their mind about Hamas after it decided to run in parliamentary elections in January 2006.

However, it is difficult for Hamas to eliminate the threats of the Salafists, said Habib, adding one reason is that some influential Hamas figures have sympathy for the Salafists.

Awkal agreed, adding that the Jihadists may revenge if Hamas intensified its crackdown on the Salafists.

Source: Xinhua
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