A suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza on Thursday, officials said, in what was seen as a rare Islamist attack against the Palestinian group that has run the impoverished enclave for a decade.
The incident occurred at around 1:00 am near the Gaza Strip’s lone crossing with Egypt along the Sinai Peninsula, where radical Islamists are waging an insurgency against Egyptian forces.
It would be the first time a suicide attack has targeted Hamas forces in Gaza, security sources said.
“Early this morning security forces stopped two people approaching the southern border (with Egypt),” a Hamas interior ministry spokesman said in a statement.
“One of them blew himself up,” it added.
Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum later referred to it as a suicide attack.
Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said field commander Nidal al-Jaafari, 28, was killed in the attack.
Qassam posted a series of photos of Jaafari in military fatigues carrying different weapons.
The group blamed “fundamentalist jihadists” for the attack, but further details on their backgrounds and motivations were still being investigated.
Security sources said the attack took place a few hundred metres from the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
The two men approached a small security position there and five guards tried to stop them before one blew himself up, they said.
The second man was moderately wounded, while the four other guards were also wounded, including one seriously, security sources said.
Eyewitnesses said hundreds of security forces deployed along the border after the explosion.
Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but has been regularly criticised by more radical Salafist groups in the strip.
There have been threats of retaliation in recent months over arrests, according to security sources in Gaza.
– Blockaded enclave –
Hamas has recently boosted its forces along the border with Egypt as it seeks to improve relations with Cairo.
Radical Islamists are also fighting Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. There was no indication there was any link.
Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing mostly closed in recent years, though it opened it on Monday for four days to allow Muslims to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, as well as for some humanitarian cases.
Bozum said the crossing would be open on Thursday as planned.
Egypt and Israel are the only countries bordering Gaza.
Israel has maintained a decade-long blockade on the strip it says is necessary to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.
Hamas has occasionally sought to crack down on Salafist groups inside the Gaza Strip with arrests.
Such Salafist groups have in recent months claimed responsiblity for rocket fire into Israel, sometimes saying it was in revenge for Hamas’s arrests.
Some security sources questioned whether Thursday’s explosion was a new phase of the Salafists’ campaign.
The groups claim thousands of supporters in the Palestinian enclave of some two million people, while Hamas estimates there are dozens.