- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas security forces attacked the homes of several members of the Army of Islam early yesterday in a continuing campaign against the armed group that in the past year kidnapped two Fox News journalists and correspondent Alan Johnston from the British Broadcasting Corp.

The forces arrested members of the group in at least 12 houses inside the still-barricaded area where the powerful Doghmush clan lives.

A journalist employed by the British-based Conflictzones news agency heard one firefight at 3:30 a.m. yesterday. He said it lasted 10 minutes and included rocket-propelled grenades.

Hamas sources said that most of the men arrested were young — some still in their teens — but that they had been in possession of weapons and explosives.

The Army of Islam has kidnapped several locals and Westerners besides the three journalists. Sometimes calling itself the Righteous Swords of Islam, it has destroyed Internet cafes and hair salons — places that hard-line Islamists say corrupt the morals of Muslims.

It was the Swords of Islam group that sent e-mails and messages to local news organizations just after Mr. Johnston was seized March 12, although later CDs and Internet postings were attributed to the Army of Islam.

Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas’ most senior leader in the Gaza Strip, said in an interview last week that Hamas would continue to clamp down on the Army of Islam and the Doghmush clan that dominates it.

“The operation that led to Johnston being set free, the operation against the Doghmush clan, is far from over,” he said.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, he said, using the full name of Hamas, cannot stop the Army of Islam from carrying arms in preparation for “resistance activities” against Israel. But all other arms would be confiscated “in a short time,” he said.

Mr. Zahar said his five-story house — about 300 yards from one of the hide-outs where Mr. Johnston was held — came under rocket attack and gunfire at one point during the kidnapping saga.

Another senior Hamas official, Abul Abed Ehmed, said, “They can use the guns of resistance, but they cannot possess the guns of evil.”

Behind the sand, cement and metal barricades that ring the Doghmush area, clan members and leaders told a reporter that they will resist if Hamas tries to take away their weaponry.

The Doghmush clan is expecting another attack by Hamas forces — even though the unwritten deal that ended Mr. Johnston’s 114 days in captivity allowed the Army of Islam’s 28-year-old leader Mumtaz Doghmush to remain free.

The Doghmush clan is still brimming with weapons.

“Let them just try to disarm us,” said Mumtaz’s uncle, Abu Khattab, as he and other clan leaders reclined in ornate mock Louis XIV chairs inside the leadership’s diwan, or meeting room.

“Various occupiers failed to take our guns. The British tried. They failed. The Egyptians tried. They failed. The Israelis tried. They failed,” he said. “This Hamas crowd, they will not even manage to get one bullet.”

Sitting listening in the meeting room of the Doghmushes was a youngish man with a red beard who declined to be identified.

“We have blood between us and Hamas,” he said. “Some months ago, Hamas killed two of our people while we were doing a job of reconciliation between two families. They killed Mahmoud and Ashraf in cold blood, one was shot 47 times. It’s unfinished business.”

c Distributed by World News & Features/Conflictzones.

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