Gaza militants take ‘jihadist’ fight to Syria
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Frustrated by the relative calm in Gaza since a 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, more than two dozen Palestinian jihadists are believed to have joined rebels fighting against the Damascus regime in Syria.
In July this year, Fahd al-Habash, a 28-year-old from Gaza, was killed fighting in Syria.
A few days earlier, he had recorded a video in which he told his family to "rejoice" at his death.
"My message to my family, if they hear I've been killed, is: be happy and rejoice, knowing I did what I had hoped to do,” Fahid said in the video, which was posted on YouTube.
His fellow Salafists have since hung a banner in front of his family home in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to honour someone they consider a martyr.
The father of two was just one of more than two dozen Palestinians believed to have joined rebels fighting against the Damascus regime in Syria since the country’s descent into civil war more than two years ago.
According to Abu Abdallah al-Maqdisi, a prominent Salafist leader in Gaza, the number of Gazan jihadists to have travelled to fight in Syria is "around 27”.
He believes the relative calm in Gaza since a 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which ended a bloody eight-day conflict, has led to a “lack of opportunities for [violent] resistance” in Gaza itself, pushing the men towards holy war in faraway lands.
Since the ceasefire, Hamas security forces have been patrolling the strip to stop rogue militant groups firing rockets over the border.
Thirst for Jihad
Now, young would-be Islamist fighters are turning elsewhere to satisfy their thirst for jihad, Maqdisi said.
Mohamed al-Zaanin, who blew himself up in a suicide attack in Syria in September, is another such example.
Zaanin, a member of a Salafist Islamist group in Gaza, left his home in June, apparently on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. But in September he contacted his family to tell them he was, in fact, in Syria.
“On the 2nd of September I knew that he was in Syria,” said his mother, Umm Mohamed al-Zaanin “I asked him, why are you there? He said: ‘I am on the path of Allah’.”
In his videotaped statement - known in Arabic as a "will", Zaanin said jihad was the duty of “every Muslim man and woman”.
"I ask you, Lord, to place me among the highest ranks of martyrdom," he said.
Hamas has now distanced itself from involvement in the Syrian conflict, backing off from its earlier support for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, a move which had cost it dearly in terms of financing from Iran, a key Damascus ally.
Meanwhile, the number killed in Syria’s bloody civil now stands at over 120,000. Gazan families with sons on the front line are hoping their loved ones will not be among them.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)