Hamas and Al-Qassam Brigades: Gaza’s resistance groups unveiled

Everything you need to know about the origins, actions, and escalating aggression in the ongoing struggle for Palestinian sovereignty.

Al-qassam qassam
(Photo: Twitter/X)
GAZA — Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group, has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 with its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. However, most people who refer to the military wing as Hamas are not correctly identifying it, as Hamas is the organization, and Al-Qassam Brigades is the operating military wing inside Gaza.اضافة اعلان

On October 7, 2023, Al-Qassam Brigades launched Operation "Al-Aqsa Flood" in response to the 75-plus-year Israeli occupation, even though many people have chosen to frame this part of time. The retaliation took Israeli Occupation Forces off guard, and Al-Qassam became a worldwide name for the Palestinian resistance. While media coverage has been limited on the atrocities of the occupation, Israel’s retaliation has led to the loss of over 17,000 civilians, a majority being women and children, in Israel’s attempt to “eliminate Hamas.”

This has become an excuse for increasing aggression, and as Israel continues its retaliation, civilians in the Occupied West Bank have also been subjected to the occupation's aggressions. Many have pointed out that Hamas and Al-Qassam Brigades are not even present in those areas, Al Jazeera reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged its troops will enter the besieged Palestinian enclave to destroy Hamas and its military wing as well as other Palestinian armed groups. Al-Qassam Brigades responded saying it was “ready”. The threat of the ground invasion, Al-Qassam spokesperson Abu Obeideh said, “does not scare us”.

Here is what you need to know about the origins and evolution of Al-Qassam Brigades.

What is Hamas, and when was it founded?
Hamas, short for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), emerged as the leading political force in Gaza during the first Intifada in 1987. Sheikh Ahmed Yasin founded it as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Like the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, Yasin was a refugee from 1948 — the same year Israel was declared a state.

In 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed by zionist settlers from their homes in what is now called Israel.

Yasin advocated armed resistance against Israeli occupation, and in 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections in Gaza, taking over in 2007.

The leader of Hamas defended Palestinian rights to armed resistance against the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. He criticized the Palestinian Authority (PA) for renouncing armed resistance, as the PA governs the occupied West Bank.

In 2000, a mass Palestinian uprising, known as the second Intifada, erupted after the provocative visit of then-Israeli politician Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – Islam's third holiest site – where Jewish prayers are not allowed. Israeli settlers aim to demolish the mosque and build a Jewish temple.
Israel responded with a crackdown on protesters, employing lethal military tactics, including the assassination of Palestinian leaders, leading to increased violence.

In 2003, Yasin called for ceasefire talks with the condition that Israel withdraw from the Palestinian territories based on the 1967 borders and stop assassinating resistance leaders.

On March 22, 2004, he was assassinated at the age of 67 by the Israeli military while emerging from a mosque in Gaza City following fajr (dawn) prayers. Yasin’s deputy, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, took over the reins of Hamas after his assassination.

Over the years, Hamas's control over Gaza tightened as the 1993 Oslo Accord between Palestinians and Israel failed to realize the Palestinian aspirations of a sovereign state. The group accused Israel of exploiting the deal to expand illegal settlements on territories occupied in 1967.

In 2006, the group won parliamentary elections in Gaza and took control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007. Israel imposed a blockade on the enclave after Hamas assumed power.

Ismail Haniyeh has led the political wing of Hamas since taking over from Khaled Meshaal in 2017.
More than its military activities, the group also takes part in social welfare activities, including food distribution during Ramadan and building schools and hospitals, boosting its popularity over the years.

What is the Al-Qassam Brigades?
Hamas established its military unit, Al-Qassam Brigades, in 1992 to support its objective of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The name is inspired by Syrian freedom fighter Ezzedine Al-Qassam, who struggled against European colonizers in the Levant. After being expelled to Palestine by the French colonialists, he took up the Palestinian cause, calling for armed resistance against Jews and British assets.

He was killed by the British colonial authorities in 1935. His armed struggle and subsequent death are believed to have triggered the 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine.

Al-Qassam Brigades have carried out numerous attacks, including suicide attacks, against Israel as part of their armed struggle.

Gaza’s largest and most well-organized armed group is led by military commander Mohammed Deif and his deputy, Marwan Issa.

Israeli forces killed Al-Qassam Brigades’ founding leader, Salah Shehadeh, in a 2002 air attack.

How strong are the Al-Qassam Brigades?
The Central Intelligence Agency Factbook states that Al-Qassam Brigades have 20,000 to 25,000 members, although this number is disputed.

Al-Qassam is believed to possess a large inventory of guns, grenades, and improvised rockets though its exact strength and military capabilities are not publicly known.

Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza provided Hamas with the opportunity to develop its military wing. Hamas sees its arsenal as a crucial deterrent against Israeli aggression and has refused to surrender its weapons, as demanded by the PA.

Al-Qassam Brigades has lost thousands of fighters in Israeli attacks and its resources have been depleted in numerous Israeli air raids and military offensive in the past one and a half decades.

What are Al-Qassam Brigades' military activities?
The Brigades are said to acquire weapons through smuggling and local production.

According to a 2021 report by the US Department of State, Al-Qassam Brigades, along with other Palestinian armed groups, launched more than 4,400 rockets in confrontations with Israel in 2021. In 11 days of fighting, at least 260 Palestinians were killed in Israeli attacks, while 13 people were killed on the Israeli side.

Reports suggest that Al-Qassam Brigades have expertise in improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket launchers, antitank missiles, and mortars.

However, they heavily rely on strategy and stealth, utilizing an extensive tunnel infrastructure that enables fighters to move around undetected.

The group has enhanced its rocket capacity and recently added drones to its arsenal. It used a barrage of rockets to breach the highly fortified Israeli fence separating Gaza on October 7.

Why did Al-Qassam Brigades launch operation ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’?
Hamas said its attack was in response to Israeli violations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and rising settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It said it had managed to take enough captives to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, and some analysts have said the acceleration of Arab-Israeli normalization may have been another factor.

“This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on Earth,” said Deif, Al-Qassam Brigades military commander. He openly called on supporters and Muslim nations to join the armed struggle.

What are Gaza’s other armed resistance groups?
Other armed groups in Gaza have signaled their participation in the ongoing resistance against Israeli forces.

Foremost among them are the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Saraya al-Quds Brigades, formed in 1992, claiming responsibility for at least 23 rocket attacks. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also actively engages through the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, endorsing armed resistance through official Telegram messages.

Read more Region and World
Jordan News