Salafists in Gaza claim to have 3,000 fighters in their ranks, according to a report published today by Agence France-Presse.
Salafists, who adhere to a strict form of Islam based on literal interpretation of the Koran, have clashed with Gaza's ruling Islamist power, Hamas, in recent years.
Now that much of the Sinai Peninsula has fallen to Daesh-inspired militants, Hamas and Israel are worried about jihadis entering the Gaza Strip from the Sinai and what effect that could have on the balance of power. Gaza, which is home to 1.8 million people, borders the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian government is engaged in a civil war with radical Islamic insurgents.
Abu al-Ansari al-Ina, a leader of the "Young Salafist Fighters," one of the major jihadist groups in Gaza told AFP that the priority of Salafists in Gaza is the "fight against the Jews in Palestine," while the strategic goal "is the introduction of Islamic law in the [rest of the] world."
"We do not want confrontation with Hamas," but "we will not hesitate to fight the infidels or anyone who stands in the way of our fighters," said another Gaza Salafist, Abu Sayyaf, who is a military commander of a Salafi movement in the coastal enclave.
In July, Hamas arrested at least a dozen Salafists after a series of bombs blew up infrastructure owned by Hamas and Hamas rival Islamic Jihad, who have been around longer but have had less success politically. At the time, Salafist groups in Gaza threatened to shoot rockets at Israel in order to retaliate against Hamas.
In May 2015, the Gazan-Salafist group Salafist Trend accused Hamas of torturing its followers.
Some Salafist groups in Gaza have sworn allegiance to Daesh, like the group Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, with whom Hamas has clashed in the past.
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