Page last updated at 22:19 GMT, Saturday, 15 August 2009 23:19 UK

Hamas says Gaza now under control

Hamas security forces in Rafah. Photo: 15 August 2009
Hamas security forces were patrolling the streets of Rafah after the battle

Hamas says it has restored order in the southern Gaza Strip after crushing a rebellion by a radical Islamist group.

At least 24 people died in Friday's gun battle between Hamas and the Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Followers of God) group in a mosque in Rafah.

The group's leader, Abdul-Latif Moussa, blew himself up using a suicide belt. More than 100 people were injured.

Hamas launched the crackdown on the group after it declared an "Islamic emirate" in Gaza.

'Hasty declaration'

The fighting in Rafah, near the Egypt border, lasted seven hours and ended at about midnight on Friday.

Name means "Soldiers of the Followers of God"
Member of Salafist movement, advocating return to the type of Islam practised at the time of the Prophet Muhammad
Wants to establish Islamic emirate throughout Middle East
Calls for strict enforcement of Sharia law, says Hamas is too liberal
Several hundred sympathisers in southern Gaza

Abdul-Latif Moussa blew himself up, killing a Hamas policemen sent to arrest him.

Six Hamas fighters, including a senior commander, and several civilians died. The rest of those killed were from Jund Ansar Allah.

About 120 people were injured, and some were in a critical condition, the BBC's Rushdi Abu Alouf says.

Hamas spokesman Tahir al-Nunu said: "We hold Abdul-Latif Moussa and his followers fully responsible for what happened because of his hasty declaration during Friday prayers of a so-called 'Islamic emirate'."

The Jund Ansar Allah is thought to be inspired by al-Qaeda.


The battle lasted several hours

Mr Nunu said: "Anyone who belongs to this group has to immediately hand himself and his weapons over to the Palestinian police and security forces."

Ehab al-Ghsain, a spokesman for the interior ministry of the Hamas government, said the cleric's followers "wanted anarchy" in Gaza.

"We have said there is no chance of a return to anarchy," he said.

Concern for Hamas

On Friday, Hamas fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades at Ibn-Taymiyah mosque, where at least 100 Jund Ansar Allah supporters were holed up.

These declarations [of an Islamic emirate] are aimed towards incitement against the Gaza Strip
Ismail Haniya,
leader of Hamas in Gaza

The entire neighbourhood was sealed off as the shooting continued after dark - in what was one of the most violent incidents in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since an Israeli offensive in December and January.

Abdul-Latif Moussa and his armed supporters had sworn to fight to the death rather than hand over authority of the mosque to Hamas.

During his own Friday sermon, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, dismissed Mr Moussa's comments.

"These declarations [of an Islamic emirate] are aimed towards incitement against the Gaza Strip and an attempt at recruiting an international alliance against the Gaza Strip.

"And we warn those who are behind these Israeli Zionist declarations: the Gaza Strip only contains its people."

Abdul-Latif Moussa and supporters in Rafah
Abdel-Latif Moussa was surrounded by armed supporters in the mosque

Jund Ansar Allah gained some prominence two months ago when it staged a failed attack on horseback on a border crossing between Gaza and Israel.

The group is very critical of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, accusing the Islamist group of not being Islamist enough.

Hamas has cracked down hard on al-Qaeda-inspired groups in the past, the BBC's Middle East correspondent Katya Adler says.

Hamas is concerned they may attract more extremist members, and has forbidden anyone except what it describes as Hamas security personnel from carrying weapons in Gaza, our correspondent says.

She adds that Jund Ansar Allah is not the first al-Qaeda-inspired group to appear in Gaza and it is unlikely to be the last - which is a worry for Gaza, neighbouring Israel and the wider region.

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