Image: Gaza Strip funeral
Eyad Baba  /  AP
Palestinians mourners carry the body of the Hamas military chief for southern Gaza, Mohammed al-Shamali. He was killed during a battle with a radical Islamic group inspired by Al Qaida on Saturday, Aug. 15.
updated 8/16/2009 9:37:54 AM ET 2009-08-16T13:37:54

Gaza's Hamas rulers said they had restored law and order to the seaside territory Sunday after a bloody weekend of clashes with an al-Qaida-inspired group.

The militant Palestinian group crushed a challenge from Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, one of a number of small, shadowy factions that are even more radical than Hamas.

At least 24 people were killed in the confrontations in the southern town of Rafah, including the group's leader, Abdel-Latif Moussa, who provoked Hamas by declaring Gaza an Islamic emirate.

His death ended the greatest internal challenge to Hamas' rule since it took control of Gaza two years ago and helped distance the territory's Islamic rulers from more radical groups that seek to expand the Palestinians' battle beyond Israel to include the Western World as well.

Hamas spokesman Ihab Al Ghussien said the group would "not allow the return of security chaos to Gaza."

Hamas authorities arrested some 100 people during the clashes and continue their search for other Jund Ansar Allah members.

The crackdown solidified Hamas' strong hold on power in Gaza. However, a previously unknown group named Suyouf al-Haq, or the Swords of Truth, called for revenge against Hamas and a boycott of its mosques in a statement posted on several Palestinian sites.

Rafah remained a closed military area Sunday, and journalists were kept away as Hamas security checked vehicles in and around the combat zone.

At least 150 people were wounded in the fighting, which began Friday afternoon after Moussa's fiery speech and continued throughout the night in two fierce gunbattles outside his mosque and his home.

Early Saturday, an explosion went off in Moussa's home as Hamas was trying to persuade him to surrender. He was buried Saturday night, but Hamas still has his home closed off. Gaza human rights groups expect the death toll to rise once medical teams are allowed access to the remains of Moussa's home.

Jund Ansar Allah first came to public attention in June after it claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to attack Israel from Gaza on horseback. The group claims inspiration from al-Qaida's ultraconservative brand of Islam, but no direct links have been confirmed.

The group has been critical of Hamas for not imposing a more severe form of Islamic law and for maintaining a cease-fire with Israel for the past seven months. 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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