Overall, the resonance of the Islamic State (IS) among the Palestinian Arab populations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has been relatively low. Attempts to connect some recent Palestinian attacks on Israelis to IS have been unconvincing. Where support for IS does exist, it is primarily found in Salafi jihadi circles in Gaza, though there are no formal affiliates in Gaza, but rather pro-IS groups. Some of these groups have undoubtedly acted as feeders into IS ranks both in the Sinai area (where a formal wilaya– ‘province’- was declared in November 2014) and to ‘IS central’ in Iraq and Syria. There have also been claimed links between Gaza and the IS affiliates in Libya.
|Abu Bakr al-Ghazawi (Abu Bakr the Gazan), who died fighting in the ranks of the IS affiliate in Sinai. He had reportedly been expelled from the ranks of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood oriented group that governs Gaza. Many Salafi jihadis- including the pro-IS networks, have featured Hamas defectors.|
|Bilal Ali al-Ghafri, a Gazan who was killed fighting in the ranks of IS in the Mosul area. Condolences paid to him here by the Ibn Taymiyya Media Centre, a Salafi jihadi media outlet in Gaza.|
The main IS-aligned Gazan network in Syria that emerged went by the name of the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion, named for a Salafi cleric in Gaza who had clashed with Hamas. The Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion had emerged on social media before the Caliphate declaration at the end of June 2014. Following the Caliphate declaration, the group’s profile dropped from social media, similar to the apparent disappearance of other nationality/ethnicity specific foreign fighter battalions aligned with IS such as the Katibat al-Battar al-Libi.
The most likely explanation for this apparent disappearance is that these types of groups were formally disbanded with the fighters distributed into various military divisions, brigades and battalions of IS that have been set up since the Caliphate to give the impression of a conventional army under its Diwan al-Jund (“Department of Soldiers”).
The positions of IS provincial governors (walis) have often been held by Iraqis and Syrians, but at least one Gazan became an IS wali, in this case for Wilayat Halab (Aleppo province in northern Syria). Reports of this appointment emerged in late June 2015. For instance, the Kurdish outlet ARA News reported on 25 June 2015:
“Miitary sources close to the organization, who refused to reveal their identities, told ARA News that ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appointed the one called Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi as wali for Aleppo, and he appointed the one called Abu Khabab al-Ghazawi as security official over the wilaya.’
According to the same sources, the ‘two new leaders are considered among the most important symbols in the Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion (a Salafi jihadi leader in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, who was killed at the hands of Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) members during the mosque explosion in the town of Rafah). And the two leaders are Palestinians from the inhabitants of the strip, who left some time ago to join the Islamic State organization, and the battalion is considered among the elite battalions in the Islamic State organization.’
The sources also pointed out that ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi previously transferred the base of the ‘Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi’ battalion from Idlib to the Shuhail area in Raqqa, to participate in guarding the leadership of his base there.”
I am not sure of the accuracy of the last paragraph in particular (there may be geographic confusion with the Shuhail area name, which also refers to a place in Deir az-Zor province in eastern Syria). However, Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi’s position as wali of Aleppo province is confirmed in an internal document I obtained recently amid the Turkish-backed ‘Euphrates Shield’ initiative that captured the Aleppo province town of al-Bab from IS.
The document notably confirms that Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi was in his position as wali at least some time before the reports of his appointment emerged. Indeed, the ARA News report incorrectly makes it out as though his appointment occurred on 25 June 2015.
Unfortunately, beyond the details presented above, Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi’s biography remains shrouded in obscurity. Furthermore, the duration of his tenure as provincial governor is not clear. Nor can it precisely determined yet whether he was replaced, and if so who his replacement might have been. The outlet Aleppo24 in a post in March 2016 made reference to an ‘Abu Harith al-Iraqi’ as a previous wali of Aleppo, but the chronological relationship between him and Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi is not clear.
Besides the reference to Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi, the document is also interesting for the apparent order to stop paying various medical bills for IS personnel in the private setting. The reason for this order was not specified, though there is space for reasonable conjecture. For example, the order could well have come about on account of financial difficulties. After all, other benefits for IS personnel and fighters have been reduced over time, such as rent benefits and privileged electricity access. Some insight is also provided into the workings behind the IS news service called Idha’at al-Bayan.
The document is translated in full below, with the original available.
Post no. 36
Diwan al-Siha [Health Department]
Sunday, 20 Sha’aban 1436 AH [7 June 2015]
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
To: the brother Sheikh Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi, the wali of Wilayat Halab, may God protect you.
Subject: Statement for distribution
As-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu
1. It is requested to stop paying the bills (for all the brothers) regarding surgical operations, medications, and laboratory and clinical examinations that are carried out in the private hospitals and clinics.
2. It is requested to send the weekly news report that is the work of the wilaya’s medical administration to the Diwan al-Siha centre, in order to coordinate with Idha’at al-Bayan to cover the news of the wilaya on a weekly basis. Note that the sending of the report will be done on Tuesday every week.
And may God reward you best.
Dr. Abd al-Rahman
With agreement: 24 Sha’aban 1436 AH [11 June 2015]
The Wali’s Office