After months of denial, Hamas has finally admitted that the ISIS terrorist group has established a network in Gaza.
ISIS-affiliated jihadist groups in Gaza have carried out sporadic rocket attacks against Israel over the past several months, shattering the delicate ceasefire between Israel and Gazan terrorist factions. The attacks have been seen both as a direct attack on Israel, as well as a challenge to Hamas – and specifically intended, security experts say, to provoke an Israeli response against Hamas.
ISIS jihadists have also been driectly engaged in a sometimes violent struggle with Gaza's Hamas rulers, accusing them of not fully implementing Islamic law and demanding imprisoned Salafists be released.
But Hamas has officially denied ISIS has any presence in the territory it rules, even as it continues to arrest ISIS supporters.
But on Friday, for the first time a senior Hamas official admitted ISIS has a presence in Gaza.
In an interview with Hamas's Al Quds TV, senior spokesperson and Political Bureau official Mousa Abu Marzouk responded to a recent video message from ISIS fighters in the Syria city of Aleppo, in which the group threatened to overthrow Hamas.
"Why do they want to turn Gaza into a sea of blood, and what capabilities does this group have to threaten like this?" Marzouk retorted.
He claimed there were mere "dozens" of ISIS members in Gaza and that they "are not organized," while vowing that Hamas authorities would soon stamp them out.
"I believe they are extending the prisons [to accommodate them – ed.]" he said.
Most analysts believe ISIS's presence in Gaza – while still relatively small – is significantly larger than Marzouk's estimates, ranging from several hundred to a few thousand active members or affiliated terrorists.
Marzouk added that the crackdown against ISIS in Gaza needed to be multi-faceted, given that the problem was not just a security one but also an ideological struggle.
He also claimed that many family members of ISIS supporters in Gaza had turned to the Hamas security forces to dissuade their relatives from joining the global jihadist movement.
Abu Marzouk's admission came on the same day as ISIS's branch on Egypt fired rockets at southern Israel.