Mayhem in Gaza: After hours of fighting Friday, Hamas' security forces were able to crush an uprising by gunmen associated with al-Qaeda, in the wake of a provocative speech by a local imam critical of Gaza's current rulers.
At least 16 people were killed in the clashes and more than 80 were reportedly wounded.
Earlier, the leader of the radical Salafi faction in Gaza, Abdul Latif Musa, slammed Hamas' conduct as not sufficiently Islamic, as he declared the Strip an "Islamic emirate" and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Radical imam declares Islamic emirate (Photo: Reuters)
Following fierce gunfights, eyewitnesses reported that Hamas was able to take over most rebel strongholds. Friday night, Hamas forces reportedly bombed the last stronghold, where Imam Musa and his men were apparently barricaded.
According to one report, the commander of the al-Qaeda faction's military wing, Abu-Abdullah al-Suri, may have been killed in the attack.
'Ideological deterioration'Unconfirmed reports said a Musa loyalist blew himself up within a group of Hamas men near the mosque where the radical cleric spoke earlier. According to other reports, Hamas members, some of them masked, were pursuing more Salafi loyalists in the Strip.
Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhari addressed the fierce clashes in Rafah, characterizing the views presented by the Salafi faction as "ideological deterioration."
"This group has no connection to any outside organization," he said. "No element or group has the authority to take the law into its own hands, and those who do not respect that will be dealt with by the security establishment."
Meanwhile, members of the Salafi group, Jund al-Ansar Allah, said they were completely loyal to Musa and warned against any attempt to undermine the Islamic emirate he declared.
According to other reports, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees was leading mediation efforts between the warring factions.