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Gaza explosions leave Hamas exposed

The two terrorist explosions that rocked the Gaza Strip despite Hamas’ tight security measures triggered questions about the movement’s capacity to stand up to the Islamic State.

The Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip launched an arrest campaign against individuals suspected of the suicide bombings that rocked the coastal enclave Aug. 27, killing three police officers and injuring three others in Gaza City.

The first explosion happened at the Dahdouh checkpoint, west of Gaza City; the second targeted the traffic police checkpoint in the Sheikh Ajlin area.

No party has claimed responsibility for the incident, but the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian security services in Gaza arrested individuals said to be affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) and who espouse the group’s extremist ideology and antagonism toward Hamas

Iyad al-Bazm, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, was interviewed on Hamas' Al-Aqsa satellite TV Aug. 28 and revealed preliminary information from the investigation. He said the first suicide bomber, without mentioning his name, blew himself up on a motorcycle at the police checkpoint near the Dahdouh junction. The other individual blew himself up at the Sahel checkpoint, west of Gaza City.

Bazm said that there has been significant progress in the investigation, portraying the bombers as collaborators with Israel who undermine the Palestinian situation in Gaza. He added that the security services will soon uncover all the details when the investigation ends.

The bombings spread panic among Gazans, who fear scenarios similar to terrorism operations in neighboring countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. This prompted all Palestinian factions to condemn the attacks and call on the security services in Gaza to hunt down those behind the attacks.

An official security source in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Monitor that a few hours after the attacks the security services were on high alert in Gaza and began an intensive investigation using the information already available on the operatives of terrorist groups.

The source said, “We arrested a cell of eight individuals linked to the bombings. We found equipment, bombs and explosive belts. They were in contact via the internet with intelligence services outside Gaza, and some of them had been detained previously by the security forces. We obtained sufficient security information on a security scheme being prepared to undermine the stability in the Gaza Strip.”

However, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused in a tweet Aug. 28 the Palestinian Authority (PA) security services and Israel of being behind all attempts to provoke chaos in Gaza. He cited the assassination of Hamas military leader Mazen Fuqaha in March 2017; the assassination attempt of Maj. Gen.Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of the security services in Gaza in October 2017; and the attack of the convoy of former Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during a visit to Gaza in March 2018.

Hossam al-Dajni, professor of political science at Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas had agreed with Egypt in 2016 to control their border to prevent militants from infiltrating. We believe that Israel may be behind the bombings in a bid to drain Hamas internally and create a security vacuum in Gaza, which the movement is well aware of and fears.”

The suicide attacks shocked Gazans, especially Hamas that is believed to have a strong security grip on the coastal enclave, which raises questions on how the bombers could pull off the attack bypassing the security apparatus.

Another suicide attack in Gaza took place on Aug. 17, 2017, when a bomber blew himself up at a Hamas checkpoint in the southern Gaza Strip, killing himself and a security agent.

Islam Shahwan, former spokesman for the Palestinian police in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The bombers seem to have collected sufficient information about the sites to be targeted with the exact number of security men available on the premises. This was a carefully thought-out plan to disturb the situation in Gaza.”

“I believe the Hamas security ought to up their game after this incident,” he said.

Shahwan noted that Gaza's security services have gathered information during investigations with those involved in the bombings and revealed that they are associated with intelligence services outside Gaza.

In past years, Hamas' security apparatus in Gaza had dealt with those associated with IS in two ways: pursuing and arresting IS supporters and engaging its members in ideological discussions in order to try to sway them, as they believe Hamas is insufficiently pious and is interested in politics at the expense of the armed resistance.

“We had information that Israeli and regional security forces have been trying to sway and pressure youths to carry out bombings in Gaza,” Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas' national relations office, told Al-Monitor. “It is true that today's bombing is a very dangerous shift aimed at destabilizing Gaza. However, Gazans stand behind Hamas that will strike hard and eradicate them once and for all.”

Hamas prides itself on the security it maintains in the Gaza Strip despite the lack of resources and difficult economic conditions. The Islamic movement is likely to take swift measures to tighten security and save face, all the while pointing fingers of blame at Israel, the PA and other regional countries it accuses of undermining the situation in the Gaza Strip.

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