"It is still unknown at this stage wheather or not he was killed in the fighting or somehow managed to escape," he said.

"There are reports that they may have detonated explosives around the house and there is also a belief that there may be a tunnel that has allowed some of the fighters to escape."

Sharia demand

The fighting began at the Ibn Taymiya mosque after Musa's speech. Hamas security forces seized control of the building late on Friday after several hours of heavy clashes.

"We are today proclaiming the creation of an Islamist emirate in the Gaza Strip"

Abdul Latif Musa, leader of Al-Jamaa al-Salafiya al-Jihadya in Palestine

Some of the fighters holed up inside then managed to escape to Musa's home.

Scores of people were wounded in the fighting outside that building, several of them critically, medical officials said. 

Musa leads a group called Al-Jamaa al-Salafiya al-Jihadya in Palestine (The Jihadist Salafist Group in Palestine), which seeks a Palestinian legal system based purely on the sharia and which has accused Hamas of being too liberal.

The group is said to have threatened to burn down internet cafes, and has called for people using Gaza's beaches to dress more modestly.

"We are today proclaiming the creation of an Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip," Musa had told worshippers at the mosque on Friday.

'Support at mosque'

Musa said that if Hamas were to implement sharia he would immediately instruct his followers to comply with the movement's instructions.

In video

Call for Islamic law in Gaza sparks Hamas crackdown

An audience of several hundred men filled the mosque as Musa spoke, cheering and shouting in response to his address.

A spokesperson for the Hamas-run interior ministry dismissed Musas's comments and described him as being mentally unstable. 

In a statement, the ministry warned that those violating the law would be pursued and dealt with by the law.

"Everyone outside the law and carrying arms in order to spread chaos will be pursued and arrested," it said.

The ministry of religious affairs has asked Musa on several previous occasions to resign his post, but he has refused. 

Foreign fighters

Mohyeldin said: "It is important to put this situation into the context of the discussion that has been going on here over the past week, and in fact for some time now.

Heavily armed men accompanied Musa as he addressed worshippers at the mosque [AFP]
"There has been some criticism that Gaza has become a bastion or a safe place for a lot of foreign fighters ... and that is something that many here, in particular from Hamas, believe undermines Hamas's ability to rule."

Earlier on Friday, Ismail Haniyah, the de facto prime minister in Gaza, rejected Israeli allegations that non-Palestinians who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were crossing into from Egypt in order to set up bases in the territory.

"Such groups do not exist on the soil of the Gaza Strip ... there are no fighters in Gaza except Gazan fighters," he said.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said that Musa's group, which two months ago attempted horseback attack on an Israeli base, "has no affiliation with foreign groups".