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Gaza jihadists take their fight to Syria

06 November 2013, 14:44

Gaza - When Mohammed al-Zaanin blew himself up in a suicide attack in Syria, the 23-year-old Palestinian joined the ranks of a growing band of Gazans who have died fighting the Damascus regime.

Zaanin was a member of a Salafist Islamist group in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and his flight to war-torn Syria represents the mix of frustration and zeal that have seen more than two dozen young men leave in search of jihad, local militants say.

"I ask you, Lord, to place me among the highest ranks of martyrdom," Zaanin said in his videotaped statement (known in Arabic as a "will") which was posted on YouTube.

"Jihad is duty for every Muslim man and woman," he said, sitting in front of the black flag used by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.

Salafists in Gaza marked his death by putting up a large placard hailing him as "a martyr of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" ISIL a jihadist group affiliated to al-Qaeda fighting in Syria.

Zaanin left Gaza in June, apparently on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, but only in September did his family realise he was in Syria.

"He left on 13 June without telling us, then contacted us on 2 September saying he was in Syria fighting the jihad," said his mother, who did not wish to give her name.

"The last time we spoke to him was on 16 September. The next day, a friend of his informed us he'd died in a suicide bombing," she told AFP.

‘Thirst for jihad’

Abu Abdallah al-Maqdisi, a prominent Salafist leader in Gaza, puts the number of Gazan jihadists to have travelled to Syria at "around 27, some of whom have returned and some who've been martyred.

"Others have been injured and are still over there, or in neighbouring countries, receiving treatment," he said.

Maqdisi said several factors had pushed the men towards holy war in faraway lands rather than closer to home.

"There's the combination of the relative calm in the Gaza Strip, and the lack of opportunities for [violent] resistance.”

"Zaanin himself was being constantly followed by Hamas's security forces for participating in rocket attacks against Israel," he said.

Following a November 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which ended a bloody eight-day conflict, the Islamist movement's security forces have been patrolling the strip to stop rogue militant groups firing rockets over the border.

Now, young would-be Islamist fighters are turning elsewhere to satisfy their thirst for jihad.

Another Gazan who met the same fate in Syria was Mohammed Qanita, aged 32, who left the enclave in September 2012 and was killed three months later, according to his brother Bakr.

"He trained on the Syrian-Turkish border near Antakya and did a lot of tours" in Syria, Bakr told AFP, quoting his brother's co-fighters who contacted the family to tell them he had died.

As the death toll in Syria rises above 120 000, Gazan families with sons on the front line are hoping not to hear of their loved one's fate through a martyr statement posted online.



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