Despite denials by Hamas, there is growing evidence that the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] -- also known as "The Islamic State" -- has begun operating in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority [PA] and Israeli security sources are convinced that followers of ISIS in the Gaza Strip are responsible for some of the recent rocket attacks on Israel.
Hamas, they say, seems to be losing control over the dozens of terror cells belonging to ISIS and other jihadi groups.
Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, in Gaza. (Image source: ISIS YouTube video)
Eyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior, earlier this week denied reports ISIS terrorists had infiltrated into Egypt through tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip. He described the reports as "lies and fabrications," adding that they are part of a campaign to "distort the image of the Gaza Strip," and that "There is no presence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip."
The denial came in response to a report in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm according to which Egyptian security forces arrested 15 ISIS terrorists who tried to enter Sinai from the Gaza Strip. According to the report, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip facilitated the infiltration of the ISIS terrorists into Egypt so that they could carry out a terrorist attack against Egyptians.
The report said that the terrorists had been entrusted with establishing terror cells and branches of ISIS in Egypt.
Hamas is obviously nervous about the presence of ISIS terrorists in the Gaza Strip and sees them as a direct challenge to its rule. ISIS believes that Hamas is "too moderate" and is not doing enough to achieve the destruction of Israel.
Last month, Hamas sent its policemen and militias to disperse a rally organized by ISIS followers in the Gaza Strip to celebrate the recent "military victories" of the terrorist group in Iraq. Hamas prevented local journalists from covering the event as part of its attempt to deny the existence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip.
At the rally, attended by dozens of Islamists, the crowd chanted, "Khaybar, Khyabar, Ya Yahud, Jaish Mohamed Saya'ud!" ("O Jews, Mohamed's army will return.")
This is a battle cry that many Islamists like to chant to remind the Jews of the story of the battle fought in 629 CE by the Prophet Mohamed against the Jews of Khaybar, an oasis in northwestern Arabia. The battle resulted in the killing of many Jews, and their women and children were taken as slaves.
Earlier this year, masked militiamen in the Gaza Strip posted a video on YouTube in which they declared their allegiance to ISIS. The militiamen are believed to be members of a radical Islamist salafist group that has been operating in the Gaza Strip for the past few years.
Then, Hamas also denied that ISIS had any followers in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas seems to be trying to cover the sun with one finger.
At the funeral of two Islamists killed by the Israel Defense Forces last week in Gaza, funeral-goers carried flags and banners of ISIS.
Over the past decade, it has become clear that Hamas is not the only terrorist organization operating in the Gaza Strip, which has become a base for dozens of jihadi groups, some linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The smuggling tunnels that used to link the Gaza Strip with Egypt (most have been destroyed by the Egyptian army over the past year) have facilitated the movement of thousands of Islamist terrorists in both directions.
The Gaza Strip is no longer only a threat to Israel, but also to the national security of Egypt.
The only way to confront this threat is through security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, which have a common interest in preventing the Islamists from exporting their terrorism beyond the borders of the Gaza Strip.