A leader of one of Gaza’s secretive jihadi groups says the al-Qaida-inspired movement now has several thousand armed fighters in the seaside strip, posing a formidable threat to both Israel and the area’s Hamas rulers.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abu Bakir al-Ansari described a movement that is larger and better organized than is generally believed, with dozens of fighters now in Syria, and claimed his group killed an Italian activist three years ago. He said Gaza’s Salafis have agreed with Hamas to observe a truce with Israel for the time being, but that they are ready to fight at any time.

“We have a deal with Hamas to abide by the truce as long as Israel abides,” Abu Bakir said. “But once it violates the truce, we fire our rockets without any consultation with Hamas.”