Gazans bury policemen killed in rare attacks within strip

GAZA, Palestinian Territory — Thousands of Palestinians took part Wednesday in funerals for three Hamas policemen killed the previous night in two co-ordinated bombings at checkpoints in Gaza City, which bore the hallmarks of extremists influenced by the Islamic State group.

Hamas set up additional checkpoints across Gaza, inspecting passing cars and travellers’ IDs. Its interior ministry said arrests had been made but did not elaborate.

A security officer close to the investigation told The Associated Press that in the second blast at a traffic police checkpoint on Gaza City’s coastal road, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing a policeman. The family of the assailant was summoned and identified their son.

Less than an hour earlier, a motorbike exploded at a similar checkpoint 2 miles (3 kilometres) away, killing two officers. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media, said security services were examining whether a suicide bomber was involved.

If the second explosion is confirmed as a suicide bombing, Tuesday’s attacks would be the first co-ordinated suicide bombings aimed at local Palestinian targets, though in 2017, a fugitive jihadist blew himself up when Hamas security forces stopped him while trying to cross Gaza’s border into Egypt, killing a security officer.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that took Gaza by force in 2007, vowed to hold the culprits accountable.

Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas official, expressed support for the security forces in pursuing the perpetrators.

“Go on with God’s blessing and strike with an iron fist on everyone who allows himself, whoever he is, to tamper with our inner front,” he told mourners during a military funeral service.

Although investigations are not yet completed, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed his movement’s rival in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel of being behind them.

“We don’t want to precede the events, but all past attempts to create chaos (in Gaza) were done by the Authority’s intelligence service” on behalf of Israel, he wrote on Twitter.

Internal violence by local groups inspired by al-Qaeda and later by IS has ebbed and flowed. The radical Salafists believe the militant group is too lenient in imposing Islamic norms on the already conservative society. After Hamas seized control of Gaza, Salafist radicals expressed their dissatisfaction by targeting video stores and internet cafes.

In 2009, Hamas and the Salafists battled when an imam declared an Islamic emirate in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Another bloody round took place in 2011 after extremists kidnapped and killed a pro-Palestinian Italian activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, in Gaza.

Egypt accused Hamas of allowing many of those radicals to cross into the turbulent northern Sinai Peninsula through the underground tunnels that once flourished beneath the Gaza-Egypt border. Hamas denied the charge and in 2016 it built a buffer zone as part of its efforts to appeal to Egypt.

Fares Akram, The Associated Press

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