The leader of a radical Islamist group was among those killed during fighting with Hamas police in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics said today. Medics said 22 people were killed and at least 120 wounded in the battle, which lasted almost seven hours. The shooting erupted on Friday afternoon following weekly prayers in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which straddles the Egyptian border. Radicals holed up in a mosque declared an Islamist "emirate" in the city, defying the authority of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza's 1.5 million people for the past two years.
"We are today proclaiming the creation of an Islamist Emirate in the Gaza Strip," Abdul Latif Musa, a representative of Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Partisans of God), was reported by witnesses to have said at the Bin Taymiyya mosque. The radical leader Musa was later killed during the fighting although exactly how remained unclear. It was one of the most violent incidents in Gaza since Israel's 22-day onslaught on the impoverished enclave in December and January.
Rafah is the Gaza stronghold of the so-called Salafist movement, of which Jund Ansar Allah is said to be a part and which is ideologically close to al Qa'eda. Among the dead in the clashes was Mohammed al Shamali, the head of the Hamas military unit for southern Gaza, emergency services said. * AFP