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Is Hamas shielding Mahmoud Joudeh at Iran’s behest?

Hamas has reportedly arrested and then released the controversial preacher for his incendiary sermons

Published: Updated:

Gaza - Muslim cleric Mahmoud Joudeh recently courted further controversy when he was arrested in Gaza, where he resides, after complaints of insulting members of the besieged strip’s Sunni sect.

Joudeh has in the past been accused of delivering incendiary messages, among the allegations that he frequently insults the companions of the prophet during his sermons and speeches.

Joudeh, who is from Rafah south of the Gaza strip, has a long history of switching allegiances between sects and groups. He has been a member of the radical Takfir Wal-Hijra faction in the past whereas he now aligns himself with Shiite extremism as preaches for the Harakat al-Sabireen group.

Local residents accussed Joudeh during one of his Islamic lessons of misconstruing historic events related to the companions of the prophet.

Security forces from Hamas’ interior ministry had then arrested Joudeh due to pressures from worshippers who saw Joudeh as propagating ideas that insulted the Sunnis, the dominant sect in Gaza.

As a result of these complaints, Hamas’ security forces interrogated Joudeh but then later released him.

Hamas denials

Hamas spokesmen refused to discuss the issue when contacted. However, a security source inside Hamas’ interior ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Joudeh’s arrest.

“Sheikh Mahmoud Joudeh, who converted to become a Shiite, was arrested after he delivered a sermon in a mosque in Rafah. He insulted the companions (of the prophet) and spread Shiite ideas which are incompatible with the Sunni sect we follow in the strip,” the source said.

According to him, Joudeh was interrogated last week after worshippers complained and was later released. He noted that Hamas spokesmen denied any knowledge of Joudeh’s arrest as the movement “does not intervene in the detention of citizens who violate the law.”

A Hamas spokesman earlier refused to comment on the detention of the sheikh who tends to be closer to Iran. “We do not comment on these issues,” he said.

By releasing Joudeh, some in Gaza are observing Hamas going against the public opinion which rejects direct Iranian influence on the besieged strip.

Meanwhile, in a video posted on YouTube, Shiite preacher Yasser al-Habib said: “Our Palestinian Shiite brothers have told us how difficult it is to hold gatherings (majalis) to mourn Hussein.”

“We are happy to visit Iran, the Muslim country which resists the occupation and supports the Palestine cause for liberation,” Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal said in a speech addressing Iranian students.

According to local reports, Joudeh has been arrested several times in Gaza because of sermons he had delivered and for allegedly organizing meetings to get people to convert into the Shiite sect.

*A version of this article was first published on AlArabiya.net.