Hamas has released 13 Islamic State loyalists from detention after they were arrested three months ago as part of the movement’s attempts to reconcile with Egyptian authorities by cracking down on radical Islamists in the Strip, a top jihadi operative in Gaza told Breitbart Jerusalem.
The unannounced release included jihadists who tried to resist arrest by firing on Hamas troops, as well as others who were arrested while firing rockets at Israel, the operative said.
Another freed detainee was Ahmad Taleb, a jihadi militant who was arrested wearing an explosive belt en route to join IS ranks in Sinai, the operative said.
The source said that the release of the detainees resulted from an agreement between Hamas and Welayat Sinai, IS’ Egyptian affiliate. As part of the agreement, Welayat Sinai facilitated the smuggling of goods through cross-border tunnels connecting Sinai and the Gaza Strip, a move that had been delayed for months after Hamas refused to allow wounded IS fighters into the Strip for medical care.
However, he said, more than 700 jihadists remain in Hamas facilities. He charged that Hamas seeks to do Egypt’s bidding, hoping to be rewarded with the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, while at the same time strengthening its ties with Cairo at the expense of Ramallah.
Last week, Egypt temporarily opened the crossing and started developing a commercial zone to facilitate exchanges of goods, but remains determined that progress will rely on security cooperation.
Some Hamas officials have protested what they deemed the slow pace of Egypt’s gestures towards them. They claim that Egypt will not give them preference over the Palestinian Authority and Cairo’s approach is tactical and temporary. Therefore, they say, Hamas should not alienate Sinai jihadists.
A Hamas police official confirmed the release of the militants, while refusing to indicate their number. He said that the release was part of an agreement with IS in Sinai.