Gaza Salafists protest relatives’ arrests

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Dozens of Palestinians held a sit-in on Sunday in central Gaza to demand the release of their Salafist relatives, held in custody by the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

Participants in the protest, mainly women and children, carried banners calling for their relatives to be freed.

“We demand the release of our sons from jail,” a female protester who refused to give her name told AFP. “Why are they arresting them and searching houses and shops?”

“They banned us from visiting since they arrested my brother, who has been on hunger strike since April 3,” she said. “We hold the Hamas government responsible for their arrest.”

According to Salafist sources, Hamas is holding over 20 members of the hardline Muslim movement in custody.

The Hamas government has found itself at odds with an array of small jihadist, Salafist groups operating in the Gaza Strip that have challenged the Islamist movement both over confrontations with Israel and the practice of Islamic rule.

Salafist groups have claimed responsibility for a number of recent rocket attacks at Israel, including last week’s directed at the southern resort city of Eilat.

Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, has regularly cracked down on Salafists in the territory, notably in 2009.