War in Gaza: At least 16 people were killed as Hamas forces clashed with supporters of a radical cleric in the Gaza Strip following a provocative anti-Hamas sermon delivered Friday.
The dead include a senior member of Hamas' military wing, Jibril al-Shimali, as well as a local girl, Palestinian sources said. More than 80 people were hurt in the battles.
Earlier, local Salafi leader Abdul Latif Musa told worshippers that Gaza is an Islamic emirate, slamming Hamas' conduct in the Strip and pledging his supporters' allegiance to al-Qaeda.
"We belong to al-Qaeda and our leader is Osama Bin Laden," said Musa, considered the leader of Gaza's Salafi branch.
The gunfight took place near a Rafah mosque and both sides were making use of mortar fire during the battle. Musa's followers later left the mosque and took positions around it.
'We'll cut off their arms'
In his sermon, Musa criticized Hamas' attitude, arguing that it is not sufficiently Islamic and noting that his supporters are making an effort to impose Islamic law in the Strip.
He said that Hamas presents an Islamic veneer but adopts what amounts to secular policy.
"It's not implementing Islamic law and prefers to meet with Congress members and with Blair and Carter," he said. "Should Hamas choose the way of Allah and the way of Jihad, we shall be its servants, but if they try to take over our mosques, we'll cut off their arms."
Musa flanked by gunmen near mosque (Photo: AFP)
Musa declared that his supporters are willing to fight Hamas, and charged the group with seizing weapons worth $120,000 from his group.
"We will hurt those who hurt us," he said. "We will turn Hamas' life into hell if they try to hurt us."
Clash predictedSome armed members of Musa's group gathered outside the mosque during the sermon in the wake of reports that Hamas may raid the site and prevent the imam from speaking. Hamas forces reportedly surrounded the mosque as Musa was speaking.
Both sides have been engaged in a mutual mudslinging campaign recently in mosques and in the media. The Salafi followers charge that Hamas has been too soft, that it has wrongly engaged in negotiations, and that it is not committed to the full doctrine of Jihad.
Although the tensions did not boil over to violence before Friday's sermon, observers in the Strip said a clash was only a matter of time and predicted that Hamas will resort to force in order to counter the group.