TEL AVIV – Hamas’ military wing suffered a blow last week as two of its top commanders crossed the Gaza-Egypt border and joined Islamic State in Sinai, senior militant sources in Gaza told Breitbart Jerusalem.
Abu Malek Abu Shawish, co-founder of a commando unit that carries out what Hamas calls “missions behind enemy lines,” and Khaled Abu Azra, one of the movement’s regional commanders in the Rafah area, crossed from Gaza into Egypt via one of Hamas’ cross-border tunnels accompanied by their families, the sources said.
It remains unclear whether the duo plan to collaborate with IS in Sinai or continue on to Syria, Iraq, or Libya, IS’s most recently established stronghold.
Contacted by Breitbart Jerusalem, Gaza sources confirmed the report and said that Hamas’ top brass were shocked at the news, all the more so given the movement’s recent efforts to “educate” its activists in the justice of its cause.
Members who have recently been suspected of dual loyalty have been expelled from the organization, as Breitbart Jerusalem previously reported.
Hamas has sought to downplay the incident, fearing any discussion may tip the balance for other hesitant members. According to estimates, some 200 Hamas activists have fought for IS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, some to the death.
The defection also casts doubt on Hamas’ fragile collaboration with IS’s affiliate in Sinai, in which the latter helps the former dodge the Egyptian army and smuggle weapons into Gaza in exchange for releasing jihadi militants from jail.
Cairo believes that the collaboration goes beyond weapons smuggling, and that Egyptian jihadists are trained in Gaza by Hamas militiamen. The Egyptian government has blamed Hamas for training the squad that assassinated Egyptian State Prosecutor Hisham Barkat, and recently made a formal plea to extradite activists who are believed to be involved.
In addition to the defectors from Hamas, top Gaza Salafi leader Tareq Badwan has left Gaza for Sinai, from which he plans to travel to Syria to fight for IS, the militant sources said.
Badwan, who was convicted of throwing a grenade at a Hamas facility in the central Gaza Strip, was recently released from Hamas prison as a gesture toward the Sinai jihadists.
His brother was killed last year in Iraq while fighting for IS.
Contacted by Breitbart Jerusalem, Abu Khaled, a spokesperson for Hama’s al-Qassam Brigades, denied that mass defections are plaguing the group, but he declined to comment on the whereabouts of Abu Shawish and Abu Azra.