Hamas commander defects from Gaza to Israel, reports say

The official was apparently caught spying for Israel in the coastal enclave

A senior Hamas commander has reportedly defected from the Gaza Strip to Israel.

The official was caught allegedly spying for Israel inside the coastal enclave before he escaped by sea, according to Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya.

He was identified in Palestinian media reports as Mohammed Omar Abu Ajwa, a man in charge of a unit in Hamas’ informal naval force who had control of sensitive documents relating to Hamas’ operations.

He had allegedly been co-operating with Israel since 2009.

Hamas denied the claims. "The Al Arabiya channel is promoting rumours that serve the aims of the occupation in destabilising the home front in Gaza," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.

The strip is run by Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2007. At times, Iran has backed the group financially, sending it money and military aid to help it fight Israel.

Its fighters and those from other militant groups, have since lobbed thousands of rockets and other projectiles towards Israel sparking retaliation.

The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the strip since 2007 has left the enclave with the highest unemployment rate in the world and a crippled economy that has left it on the verge of becoming “unliveable,” according to the United Nations.

Israel says the strict blockade is necessary to contain Hamas but critics argue it amounts to collective punishment and deepens Gaza's humanitarian crisis.