Hamas fights a bloody battle with the ‘non-existent’ in Gaza 131

From the Telegraph:

Six people were killed and 55 wounded in Gaza fighting on Friday when Hamas police stormed a mosque where radicals had declared an Islamist “emirate” in the Palestinian territory, emergency services said.

Shooting was continuing after dark, witnesses said, after clashes began in the afternoon following weekly prayers in the southern city of Rafah, which straddles the Egyptian border.

Among the dead was Mohammed al-Shamali, head of the Hamas military unit for southern Gaza, emergency services said, adding that bodies of some other victims could not be reached because of the intensity of the fighting…

An Egyptian security official said a three-year-old boy was critically wounded by a bullet from the fighting across the [Egyptian] border.

Witnesses said that following the prayers, a group of Palestinians announced the formation of the Islamist “emirate,” defying the authority of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza’s 1.5 million people for the past two years.

“We are today proclaiming the creation of an Islamist Emirate in the Gaza Strip,” Abdul Latif Musa, a representative of Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Partisans of God), said at the Bin Taymiyya mosque, the witnesses reported.

Musa was surrounded by armed fighters when he made his statement, according to the witnesses.

Rafah is the Gaza stronghold of the so-called Salafist movement, of which Jund Ansar Allah is said to a part and which is ideologically close to al-Qaeda.

An AFP photographer reported that Hamas police dynamited Musa’s house. It could not be established whether the Islamist was there at the time.

Hamas police blocked all entrances to Rafah, the photographer said.

The Hamas interior ministry warned that those violating the law would be pursued and arrested.

“Everyone outside the law and carrying arms in order to spread chaos will be pursued and arrested,” a ministry statement said.

At the same time, Hamas premier Ismail Haniya denied that the group exists.

“No such groups exist on the ground in Gaza,” he said at prayers in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. He blamed the “Israeli media for spreading this information with a view to turning the world against Gaza.”

Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after a week of vicious fighting with forces of the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.