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The rebels in Syria include a few dozen operatives from the Salafist-jihadi organizations in the Gaza Strip

ITIC, Israel, On November 26, 2013, the BBC’s Arabic-language channel broadcast a report covering the phenomenon of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip fighting in Syria against the Assad regime. According to the report, dozens of Salafist-jihadi members of radical Islamic movements in the Gaza Strip have gone to Syria. The BBC correspondent in the Gaza Strip estimates that the phenomenon of joining the rebels stems from persecution of Salafist operatives by the Hamas security forces and from the lull policy of Hamas, which prevents Salafist operatives from attacking Israel (BBC in Arabic, November 26, 2013).

We estimate the number of volunteers from the Gaza Strip who have joined forces with the rebels at several dozen (around 20-23). Seven of them were killed, including three in suicide attacks (Al-Hayat, November 28, 2013). Most of them belong to Salafist-jihadi organizations and some are former Hamas operatives. They enter Syria via Turkey (as do most of the foreign volunteers). Some ostensibly depart for Saudi Arabia (for example, under the guise of going on a Hajj) and from there they enter Syria via Turkey. In Syria, they usually join the Al-Nusra Front and other jihadist organizations.

The number of Palestinian volunteers from the Gaza Strip who join the ranks of the rebels is still relatively low, but it has been on the rise over the past year (like the phenomenon of foreign volunteers in general). In Syria, the Salafist-jihadi volunteers from the Gaza Strip are expected to acquire military experience, ideological training and ties with groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Upon their return to the Gaza Strip, they are liable to become a hotbed of terrorism and subversion against Israel, Egypt and even the Hamas de-facto government.

In our estimation, besides the volunteers from the Gaza Strip there are about 10-15 Arabs from Israel in Syria, along with several dozen Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria and a small number of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria. These figures indicate that this is still not a widespread phenomenon among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Nevertheless, as aforesaid, once these volunteers return to their countries, they will represent a potential source of terrorism and subversion.

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