It's official: Al-Qaeda has begun operating in the Gaza Strip.
A video posted on YouTube this week showed terrorists belonging to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known colloquially by its Arabic acronym, DAESH, announcing plans to wage jihad [holy war] against the "infidels, traitors and Crusaders."
This is the first time that a group linked to Al-Qaeda announces its presence in the Gaza Strip.
Members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [DAESH] in Gaza. (Image source: DAESH YouTube video)
The announcement is seen as a challenge to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has been in control of the Gaza Strip since July 2007.
Palestinian Authority security officials in Ramallah expressed fear that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group would try to establish terrorist cells also in the West Bank.
The video features 10 heavily-armed masked terrorists declaring allegiance to DAESH, whose men are responsible for most of the atrocities in Syria and Iraq over the past few years.
In the video, a spokesman for the group announces that in addition to Syria and Iraq, DAESH now has "lions and armies in the environs of Jerusalem."
The spokesman says that the group's goal is to restore the dignity of Muslims who have been "humiliated" by their enemies. He urges Muslims to rally behind his group and support its members in their jihad against the enemies of Islam and "Arab tyrants."
Palestinians have reacted with panic to the emergence of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in the Gaza Strip.
According to reports from the Gaza Strip, Palestinians are worried that the DAESH terrorists will perpetrate atrocities against those who oppose their ideology and activities.
"This group is much more dangerous and radical than Hamas," said a Palestinian journalist from Gaza City. "The presence of Al-Qaeda in the Gaza Strip is bad news not only for Hamas, but for all Palestinians. Palestinians see the crimes and massacres perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria and fear that they could be repeated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
Hamas leaders, for their part, have reacted with skepticism to the announcement by DAESH, describing it as another attempt to "distort" Hamas's image and "resistance."
Salah Bardaweel, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said that the Gaza Strip was a "small area with no room for Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups."
Hamas has not hesitated in the past to confront tiny jihadi groups whose members had openly challenged its rule. Like DAESH, these groups believe that Hamas is too "moderate" and is no longer committed to the "armed struggle" against Israel.
In one of the deadliest confrontations, Hamas security forces killed and arrested a number of jihadi terrorists who found shelter in a mosque in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. At least 28 jihadi terrorists were killed and 120 wounded during the 2009 raid on members of a group called Jund Allah [Soldiers of God].
It now remains to be seen whether Hamas will be able to crush the new Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, whose members are also operating in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
Those who are talking about "reuniting" the Gaza Strip and the West Bank can no longer ignore the presence of the Al-Qaeda terrorists on the streets of the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to talk about the need for Palestinian unity to pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Last week, he even dispatched a senior Fatah delegation to the Gaza Strip to discuss ways of ending the dispute between his party and Hamas.
Now that Al-Qaeda has begun operating in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas needs to consider the possibility that Palestinian unity would pave the way for the DAESH terrorists to move into the West Bank – an outcome U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team need to take into consideration when they talk about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem on the pre-1967 lines.