Palestinian sources reported Sunday that the Hamas government in Gaza revealed documents proving that al-Qaeda loyalists who clashed with the Islamist group's security forces over the weekend were backed by a number of Arab countries and by elements associated with senior Fatah member Mohammed Dahlan.
The fighting erupted Friday when Hamas forces surrounded a mosque in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on the Egypt border where about 100 members of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, were holed up. The violence left 24 people dead, including Jund Ansar Allah leader Abdel-Latif Moussa.
Moussa reportedly blew himself up during a shootout Saturday with Hamas security forces.
In a message posted by al-Qaeda's websites, the Islamic Swords of Justice, a group affiliated with the Salafi movement, vowed to avenge the deaths. "We tell our people who witnessed this crime that this is not over, and war is on its way," the message said.
The Palestinian sources said Hamas revealed the documents some two months ago, long before the decision to attack the mosque in Rafah was reached.
According to the documents, the sources claimed, the al-Qaeda loyalists' activity was financed a number of Arab states, as well as by Dahlan's associates.
Dahlan was the head of Fatah's security force in Gaza before Hamas violently took over the coastal enclave in the summer of 2007.
The Palestinian sources added that Hamas' security forces intercepted communiqués sent between the loyalists in which they called for the launching of attacks on Hamas figures and institutions in order to destabilize its regime. The loyalists were behind a number of recent explosions that took place at weddings and Internet cafes in Gaza, they claimed.
Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad said the clashes did not involved "an outlawed group that wanted to carry out terror attacks and deems all those who do not agree with it heretics."
The minister said the al-Qaeda inspired group refused to fight alongside Hamas during Israel's offensive in Gaza in early 2009.
"They said it is a war of heretics against heretics, and held suspicious ties with the security forces in Ramallah," Hamad said.