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Suicide Bombers Hit Hamas Police Checkpoints in Gaza

GAZA — Two suicide bombers hit Hamas police checkpoints in Gaza City late Tuesday, killing three police officers and wounding three other Palestinians, security officials said on Wednesday, in an uncommon attack from within the territory.

Two of the officers were part of the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that governs Gaza. The group has been mostly engaged in cross-border clashes with the Israeli military. But at times it has faced internal opposition from more stringent Islamist militants aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Eyad al-Buzom, a spokesman for Hamas’s Interior Ministry, said in a local TV interview that two suicide bombers had carried out the attacks at the checkpoints. He said that security forces were investigating the explosions and that a number of suspects had been arrested.

Hamas’s intelligence was able to identify the attackers, officials said, but their names were not immediately revealed. No further details were released.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but local reports said that the blasts were believed to have been the work of bombers aligned with the Islamic State group. Other officials said they believed the attackers were either Islamic State members or collaborators with Israel.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the attacks “only serve” Israel, describing them as “suspicious bombings” that harmed the armed struggle against Israel.

A spokesman for the Israeli military said he knew of no involvement by Israel in the blasts.

The Interior Ministry of Hamas declared a state of emergency throughout Gaza, putting security forces on alert.

“The hand of treachery and treason that carried out the crime of bombings will be chopped off from the roots,” Hamas said in a statement.

Palestinian officials vehemently denounced the attack in statements and called for severe punishment for the assailants.

The attack left body parts strewn over the site and puddles of blood covering the ground. Police officers and masked forces from the military wing of Hamas were deployed to the explosion site, blocking roads and imposing traffic controls.

The first blast destroyed a motorcycle as it passed a police checkpoint, witnesses told reporters. Two police officers were killed and a third Palestinian wounded. It was not immediately clear whether the riders were among the casualties.

The second explosion, less than an hour later, killed one officer and wounded at least two other people at a police checkpoint elsewhere in the city, the Interior Ministry said.

Tensions have been high for several years between Hamas and the Islamic State branch in Sinai, which is fighting the Egyptian military in the area. The Islamic State fighters subscribe to a Salafist ideology that is at odds with the more pragmatic approach of Hamas, which is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.

Islamic State fighters see themselves as part of a global jihadist movement, while Hamas is part of the Palestinian resistance to Israel. On the ground, the two groups have had violent clashes and political disagreements, most notably over Hamas’s relations with Egypt and control of smuggling tunnels on the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Islamic State commanders, in turn, have criticized Hamas for engaging in talks with Egypt over control of the border between Egypt and Gaza, and have publicly invited Hamas members to defect to their group.

In July 2017, jihadists allied with Islamic State in Sinai participated in an attack on Egyptian security forces in Sinai. That came a year after the Islamic State had tried to scupper talks between Hamas and Egypt by closing off smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza.

Hamas, which took over Gaza after a 2007 civil war with the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, has clashed with the Israeli miliary as it seeks a loosening of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

A series of violent clashes and cease-fires has unfolded between the group and the Israeli military. In May, in some of the worst fighting in years, Palestinian militants launched about 250 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes and tank fire against targets across the Palestinian territory

More than two dozen people — at least 22 Palestinians and four Israeli civilians — were killed, and homes and businesses were destroyed, in the fighting.

In March, Israel and Hamas exchanged rocket fire, with one striking the village of Mishmeret, about 20 miles north of Tel Aviv, the Israeli military said. Hamas neither confirmed nor denied that it had carried out the attack. Hours later, Israeli warplanes struck back at Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip.

Later on Wednesday, Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, and officials from several other Palestinian factions mourned the victims as their bodies — wrapped in Palestinian flags — were carried in a police motorcade to cemeteries in the Gaza Strip.


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