Hamas' August 14, 2009 deadly attack on the Salafi Ibn Taymiyya mosque in Rafah, which resulted in the death of Sheikh Abu Al-Nour and many of his followers,  sparked an intense clash between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Palestinian media. Hamas Legislative Council member Dr. Yunis Al-Astal, known for his extremist views, penned a justification for the attack, calling the Salafis "the greatest threat" to Hamas. Also in his article, he renounced democracy, defended Hamas' tahdiah (truce) with Israel as an opportunity for the movement to rest and regroup, and defended Hamas' right to receive funds from Iran.
In response, Omar Hilmi Al-Ghul, advisor to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayadh, wrote a series of articles attacking both Al-Astal and Hamas. He accused Al-Astal of incitement to murder, and condemned Hamas for allowing drugs and "[sexually] provocative materials" to be smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels. He also criticized Hamas' hypocrisy, stating that it had used the democratic system to win the elections, yet was not committed to the principles of democracy. Al-Ghul added that the members of Hamas' military wing had not really participated in the fighting during the Gaza war, but had hidden and let others do the fighting. As for the tahdiah with Israel, he stated that Hamas was merely appeasing the occupation and capitulating to its directives; with regard to the funding from Iran, he claimed that it subordinated Hamas to Iran's agenda.
Following are excerpts from Al-Astal's and Al-Ghul's articles:
Al-Astal: "Today, the Greatest Threat of All is the [Salafi] Ideological Invasion"
Hamas Legislative Council member Dr. Yunis Al-Astal wrote: "[Our] heroic steadfastness in the face of all the plots [against us] prompted our enemies to threaten our fortresses from within. They increased the smuggling of drugs, painkillers such as Tramal, and libido-enhancing medications, as well as [sexually] provocative films and pictures, which they spread via the media, in coffee shops, in magazines, etc...
"[But] today, the greatest threat of all is the ideological invasion [being carried out by the Salafis] in the name of Islam. Certain people [among them] found some flaws [in the Hamas government's conduct,] blew them out of proportion, and then planted them in the minds of young people who have no knowledge of the Koran or of [Islamic] jurisprudence. [These young people] have been persuaded that the [Hamas] movement and its legitimate government in Gaza do not care about Islam and refuse to implement shari'a [in Gaza], and that they [i.e. the young people] are closer to the Islamic faith than [Hamas is].
"Some even claimed that [Hamas] has renounced Islam, and characterized its government as an apostate [government]. They think that impeding [its activity], or even toppling it and harming its leaders, is more important than fighting the secularism and atheism that some [other] factions are spreading among the Palestinian people…
"[In fact] they think that [fighting Hamas] is more important than resisting the occupation itself…"
We Did Not Choose Democracy - It Was Forced On Us
"These people [i.e., the Salafis] hate the very sound of the word 'democracy,' because they think that it means that the people share the rule with Allah, or that the people are treated like God. [But] the question is: Did we bring democracy into our own home, or were we born into a Western and Arab occupation that has imposed imported constitutions and man-made laws on this region? [As a matter of fact it was] we [i.e. Hamas] who broke the shackles on our hands and the collar around our neck. We took control of the decision-making positions in the ministries and in parliament, in order to speed up the full Islamization [of Palestinian society]!
"Do we [really] face a choice between Islam and democracy - or [is the choice] between democracy [on the one hand] and dictatorship, tyranny, and a one-man rule in the guise of democracy [on the other]? Moreover, have we adopted democracy with all its flaws, or only [the mechanism of] elections and ballots?
"Was there any other way to stop the political and moral deterioration except through political struggle [i.e., participation in the elections]? Would [Israel] have imposed various forms of siege upon us had it not believed that our electoral victory threatened its plan to eliminate us [and also threatened its] phony democracy? [Does anyone prefer] the method used by our detractors [the Salafi-jihadis], who want to bring change through bloodshed and torn limbs and thus generate hostility and hatred within out homes and neighborhoods - [hatred] that even decades will not wash away? Will the orphans, the widows, the bereaved, and the wounded be able to forget the bloodshed and [the killing of] their loved ones?..."
We Are Islamizing the Palestinian Parliament and Legal Code
"[After the 2006 elections,] we made sure to introduce into the [Palestinian] parliament more religious scholars who are experts in Islamic jurisprudence and law. We made an effort to take over the Legislative Committee, which is the most important [parliamentary] committee. [Today] this is the only committee whose chairman and most of whose members are from Hamas. We also have [religious] scholars and jurisprudents on this committee…
"The most important law passed recently [in parliament] is the zakat [i.e. charity] law. An authority has been established to collect zakat from the rich and give it to the poor. [We have also changed] the penal code, so that it now stipulates that a crime must be proven by bringing the full range of evidence required by the Islamic shari'a, and we have expanded [the law] to include new forms [of crime] perpetrated using mobile phones, computers, etc. Dozens of [additional] rules are waiting to be updated and Islamized…"
The Tahdiah with Israel Allows Us to Rest and Prepare for the Next Round
"[As for the tahdiah,] doesn't the resistance occasionally need some breathing space, or what is called 'warriors' rest,' in order to regroup… and repair equipment that has been damaged?... Isn't it clear that the periods of truce are not meant for relaxing, and do not mean that we trust the intentions of the treacherous enemy? Was Operation Shattered Illusions, [i.e.] the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit, not the product of a truce?
"Did the world not witness the steadfastness of the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades in the face of the insane Zionist attack, which was perpetrated with the most advanced weapons and with incredible intensity, and which lasted for three weeks until the Jews were forced to end it unilaterally, with the final attack being ours? Didn't [all of this] prove that a period of truce had been necessary in order to prepare?..."
Iran's Assistance Is Legitimate
"...[As for Hamas' receiving support from Iran,] is [Iran] not a Muslim country? Is it not preferable to many Arab states that claim to be Sunni, [but which nevertheless] host in their territory American army bases and Crusader [forces] that do as they please, without restraint and without oversight?..."
Islamic Rule Is Not Just Koranic Punishments - It Means Running the Country and Helping the Poor
]"The Salafi jihadis] become enraged whenever they see a wedding at which there are [rowdy] celebrations or some women wearing makeup - yet [this does not result] in heads and hands being chopped off or in backs being flogged. They bemoan the fact that the shari'a, as they see it, is not being implemented. This is a serious debate, but we can say in this context that the shari'a is not just [implementing] the punishments specified in the Koran, but [following the directives of] the religion as a whole.
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"Jurisprudential policy means implementing the religion and running the world according to [the precepts of] the religion. [The Hamas'] prime minister [in Gaza] and some [of its] MPs and ministers lead Friday prayers and some other public prayers, and are responsible for preaching morals and issuing rulings. They direct the [activities of religious] preaching through the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the media, and the education system. With Allah's help, we have managed to give people security and food.
"The [Palestinian] Authority [is able to] pay salaries thanks to interest-bearing loans [which are forbidden by Islam] and [international] grants. The Hamas government, [on the other hand], has not taken a single dollar in interest-bearing loans, has received no financial aid from donor countries, and all banks have refused to cooperate with it. Despite this, it pays salaries on time, it has put together a budget, and it does its best to assist the workers and the poor. We are implementing a plan to gradually decrease out dependence on the occupation…
"[The Salafi-jihadis] do not realize that before Koranic punishments are implemented, it is first necessary to meet the people's needs, so that they will be able to do what [the religion] permits. [Moreover,] Islam strives to be lenient and to refrain from implementing the Koranic punishments, [since] its rule is based on preventing [crime] before dealing with [criminals]…"
The Salafis Are Serving the Enemies
"Are the Salafis justified in directing most of their anger at Hamas and [its] government, or does logic dictate that we should unite against the Jewish danger, [which threatens] the entire region and not just the Palestinian people? Imagine that some future war succeeds, God forbid, in breaking our strength, toppling the [Hamas] government, and weakening the Al-Qassam Brigades. [If this happens,] what will [the enemy] do to the other factions, even to those who [now] insult the government and who regard it, out of ignorance and careless [reasoning], as their primary enemy?
"Who knows, perhaps the enemy has already infiltrated the ranks [of the Salafi-jihadis] and is directing their actions in ways that serve its interests, without the knowledge of most of the people who are involved in this conspiracy?..." 
The PA Responds: Hamas Is Responsible for the Spreading of Immoral Materials
Omar Hilmi Al-Ghul, advisor to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayadh, responded to Al-Astal's statements in a series of articles published in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. In response to the claim that in order to harm Hamas, the Salafis encouraged the smuggling of drugs and "provocative" materials into the Gaza Strip, Al-Ghoul writes: "The expert Al-Astal acknowledges that [the Hamas] coup [in Gaza], which has enabled the smuggling of various products through the tunnels, has increased the amount of drugs, painkillers and libido-enhancing medications [smuggled into the Gaza Strip].
"However, turning the facts on their head, he tries to blame this on 'the enemies.' He ignores [the fact that] it is his colleagues among the Islamic preachers and the coup leaders who are supervising the smuggling activities and turning a quick profit by spreading dangerous forms of entertainment among the [Gaza] youth. These materials destroy the moral, political and cultural foundations of our society, and open the door to all the [negative] phenomena that fragment the Palestinian family which is the [basic unit] of society…"
It Was Hamas That Encouraged the Salafis in the First Place
In response to Al-Astal's statement that the biggest threat to Hamas is the Salafis' "ideological invasion in the name of Islam," Al-Ghoul wrote: "Who permitted you to set yourselves up as the guardians of Islam? Isn't it true that anyone who recites the shahada becomes a Muslim, regardless of his intentions? Isn't Islam a lenient religion? [Besides,] who was it that allowed the extremist groups to go into a frenzy of accusing others of heresy and treason? Wasn't this the policy of your black coup?
"Weren’t you, [Al-Astal], one of the first who incited to murder [Fatah members] in the name of religion and who issued a fatwa saying 'enter paradise by [killing them]'?" 
Hamas Uses the Democratic System While Renouncing Democracy
About Al-Astal's argument that democracy was forced upon Hamas, Al-Ghul said: "Was it not the rules of democracy that brought you and your movement into the [Palestinian] Legislative Council? Did you not rise to power by means of elections and ballots? Why did you [participate in the elections in the first place] if you are against them in principle? Why did you accept them as a mechanism for [choosing] between yourselves and your rivals and compatriots? Are we still in the era of the Islamic conquests, or [is it true that] times have changed, the world has advanced, and humanity must develop [new] ways of life?
"The civilized peoples have separated state and religion because religion expresses the unique bond between Man and God, and the followers of one religion may not impose their faith on others - for freedom of religion is [a right] granted to all, without exception…
"[But] the Hamas movement is not interested in democracy. It regards it as a rope or a collar around its neck… It wants to adopt the democratic [mechanisms that serve its ends], but is unwilling to commit to all the democratic obligations. Anyone who followed the statements of Hamas' MPs after the election of the 10th parliament [in 2006] heard them declaring openly that their government was 'divine' and would remain [in power] until the liberation [of Palestine] or until Allah [wished to remove it].
"On this basis, they tore the Palestinian society to shreds, damaged the very pillars of our national unity, and [ripped] the fabric of our nation and society - all in order to completely Islamize society and [establish] a full-fledged Islamic emirate!..." 
"…[Hamas] has adopted a strategy and tactic that allows it to exploit democracy in a most despicable way. It wanted to adopt only the [mechanisms] that suit its goals. That is, it wanted to take over the government and the decision-making positions [democratically], and then close the gates of democracy and oppose any [future] elections - though [Al-Astal] claims that he and his movement agree [to hold new elections].
"Let me remind them of the memorandum that [Hamas] MPs [recently] circulated in the West Bank, in which they agreed to hold elections only two years after the achievement of a [Hamas-Fatah] reconciliation, because they realized that an election [right now] would not be in their favor. [In any case,] whenever Salafi and fundamentalist Islamic movements, or Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, [seem to] embrace democracy, it is merely a means to attain their narrow goals…
"This demonstrates their rejection of the principle of partnership. They are incapable of accepting the other regardless of who he is; [they accept him] only if he is one of them and if he does their bidding and [accepts] their distorted logic…"
Replying to Al-Astal's claim that Hamas had been forced to participate in the democratic process in order to stop the Palestinians' "political and moral deterioration," Al-Ghul stated: "The question, Dr. Yunis [Al-Astal], is whether you [really] stopped the political deterioration, and [if so,] how. Give us an example! [Besides,] aren't you ashamed to talk of political and moral deterioration? Wasn't the bloodshed [the result of] your conduct and your organized terrorism against the Palestinians in Gaza?
"If accepting the principle and option of a political agreement and a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, including Jerusalem and the right of return for the refugees based on [U.N.] Resolution 194, counts as 'moral deterioration' - what policy do you [suggest instead]? Do you have a different plan?...
"Have you managed to protect [our] national enterprise, and [if so,] how? Why do you not present your [own political] plan? Was it not you who damaged the national enterprise and the unity of the [Palestinian] land, people and cause? Was it not you who tore asunder this united family and home…?
Hamas Sold Out the Resistance
In response to Al-Astal's claims that the tahdiah served Hamas' interests and that the Al-Qassam Brigades had fought bravely during the Gaza war, Al-Ghul stated: "How has the tahdiah [suddenly] become an interest of Hamas and of the coup leadership? Why is it that anyone who wants to continue the resistance in Gaza is [suddenly regarded by Hamas as] unpatriotic? What has changed, Hamas? During all the years of PA leadership, did you not carry out acts of sabotage whenever the time came for the Israeli army to redeploy [its forces and withdraw from Palestinian territories]? Did you not circulate hundreds of memorandums that poisoned the atmosphere of national accord, hurling at the national leadership the most hideous invective and baseless accusations in the name of the resistance?
"What has Hamas achieved thanks to the tahdiah, [and] what is your stance on the resistance today? Do these achievements not indicate that Hamas is kissing the hands of the Israeli enemy and accepting its directives? [And aren't you doing this] just so that [Israel] will accept your illegal coup [in Gaza] - a region of the homeland that you have taken by force against the will of the people and the political leadership and thanks to the weakness of some people who conspired with you?
"[Moreover,] why do you speak of resistance in the West Bank, and what is the purpose of this resistance? Isn't it your goal to destroy the security and order that the PA has [managed to] achieve in the last two years? Isn't it your intention to bring back the chaos, and to destroy and sabotage the modest achievements of the Palestinian people? What is the duration of [your] hudna with Israel], Dr. Al-Astal? How can you agree to a decades-long hudna with the enemy, without an agreement, just in order to avoid jeopardizing your rule and protect your coup?
"Do you not think, Dr. Yunis, that you are serving the interests of the occupation and its aggression, and of the enemy's plans and plots? What makes you different from the other forces hostile to the Palestinian people? Where is the wisdom of your coup?... [How are you different from] Sheikh [Yousef Al-]Qaradhawi, who issues fatwas for money?
"[What will you answer when] the defenders of the option of resistance and rejection ask you how cheaply you sold out the resistance?..." 
During the War, Hamas Fighters Were Ordered to Hide and to Remove Their Uniforms
"[During the Gaza War,] the Al-Qassam Brigades were not present [on the battle field], for their political and military leadership had ordered them to hide and to remove their uniforms, and to leave the fighting to other national forces.
"[Instead of fighting, they were ordered] to deal with Gaza's internal affairs, that is, to focus on harassing the security personnel and the fighters of the Fatah movement, and to keep them under house arrest so that they would not be able to join the confrontation [with Israel]… Some 1,200 people were placed under house arrest. In addition, Hamas directed the treacherous fire of its weapons at dozens of national [i.e. Fatah] fighters.
"Even human rights organizations - local, regional and international - have condemned Hamas' crimes and terrorism in Gaza. Oh [Mr.] Al-Astal, what confrontation [with Israel] are you talking about? Who says you ever fought? Why don't you ask the residents [of Gaza] and other resistance factions, including Islamic Jihad?...
On the issue of Iran's assistance to Hamas, Al-Ghul wrote: "Is the Iranian money innocent, pure and not [contaminated by] political and religious [motives]? Was the Iranian money sent to you out of love and support for the option of resistance, or does it have clear and obvious goals that have forced you to accept the agenda of its owners?
"Have you not destroyed the national arena and undermined the foundations of the national enterprise for the sake of the Iranian money?... 
 See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 542, "The Rise (and Fall?) of the Islamic Emirate in Gaza," August 17, 2009, The Rise (and Fall?) of the Islamic Emirate in Gaza.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 22, 2009.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 23, 2009.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 24, 2009.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 25, 2009.