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In Gaza, rise of Hamas military wing complicates reconciliation with Fatah

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But reconciliation is not an option for Al Qassam members, who make up a large part of Hamas security forces. Their bitterness toward Fatah still runs deep over the 2007 battle, and their victory brought a sense of ownership for Hamas power in Gaza that they will not easily give up.

"Al Qassam led the battle against Fatah and gave the victory to Hamas," says Abu Khaled. "The Hamas government was weak until Al Qassam took the power and handed it to Hamas. Without us, there wouldn't be a Hamas government."

That is part of the reason that Hamas is not likely to sign, much less implement, the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation agreement that would restructure the security apparatus, giving Fatah a hand in Gaza security.

"[Al Qassam fighters] are the ones who kicked Fatah out of the Gaza Strip; they are the ones being hunted and tortured in the West Bank," says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza. "Qassam is against reconciliation and they will stand against [it] even if it means a big split within Hamas."

The Egyptian document also calls for dissolving militias – understood to include Al Qassam – and incorporating them into the security apparatus. Dissolving the force that is considered the resistance against the Israeli occupation is out of the question for most Palestinians, not to mention for Al Qassam itself.

Qassam seen as more powerful than Gaza's Hamas government

Al Qassam militants, whose role in fighting Israel during the 2009 Gaza war added to the clout they'd gained two years earlier, are perceived as being more powerful than the Hamas-run government.

Hamas security forces are largely drawn from Al Qassam members – Abu Khaled says two-thirds of Hamas policemen are police by day and Al Qassam by night. Many Hamas government leaders are former or current Al Qassam members, or have sons in the armed brigades.

Many in Gaza tell stories of jailed Al Qassam militants who are sprung overnight by their comrades, with the police unable or unwilling to intervene. Some accuse members of the brigades of burning down Crazy Water, a restaurant and water park accused of having looser social strictures.

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