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Growing threat to Hamas: Gazans who think it has sold out

A gun battle between Hamas and an Al Qaeda-inspired group that left about 30 dead last week is a sign of a growing movement inside the impoverished territory.

In this Aug. 14 photo, Abdel-Latif Moussa, the leader of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, speaks during Friday prayers in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Hamas said Saturday morning that he was killed by an explosion while fighting Hamas forces in Rafah.

AP/File

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Two years after its takeover of the Gaza strip, Hamas has faced down its greatest challenger: A militant, Al Qaeda-inspired organization that says Hamas is not Islamic enough.

Last Friday, Hamas forces and the Jund Ansar Allah (Soldier of God) movement fought a day-long gun and artillery battle that killed about 30 in the southern Gaza town of Rafah after the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa, declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza and denounced Hamas. Mr. Moussa was killed in the fighting, centered on the mosque where he and his followers had gathered.

It was the first time an Al Qaeda-inspired group had directly challenged Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip but it may not be the last. Fueled by the failure of Hamas to address the area's growing poverty and isolation, and Hamas' relative recent restraint in its confrontation with Israel, analysts say such organizations are growing in the territory.

"New groups of young people, they are fed up with what they see as Hamas' betrayal of the cause – of Islamic ideology and of jihad," says Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in Arabic Studies at Israel's Bar-Ilan University and senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "They view Hamas as having become too bureaucratic, too moderate, and they want action."

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