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Explained: Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the group that signed a fragile truce with Israel

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant faction designated as a terrorist organization by the US, Israel, and the EU. Unlike the Hamas, the group is smaller in size.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants gather at a mourning house for Palestinians who were killed during Israel-Gaza fighting, as a ceasefire holds, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 8, 2022. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The past week has witnessed a fresh round of violence between Israel and Gaza, and the most serious intensification of conflict since the 11-day crisis in May 2021. The crisis last year left more than 200 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis dead, with many more people injured.

According to a BBC report, on Sunday, rockets fired from the Gaza Strip reached Jerusalem for the first time since the 2021 crisis. These rockets had been fired in retaliation for the killing of Khaled Mansour, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, a rank equivalent to that of a general in the armed forces. Israel had killed Mansour during an air strike on a house in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Mansour had previously survived five assassination attempts by the Israeli military.

A DW report indicated that the most recent conflict was reportedly a result of the arrest of Bassam al-Saadi earlier this week, a well-known al-Quds member, by Israeli forces. The report said that al-Saadi’s arrest, who has spent years in Israeli prisons for his role in planning and launching military operations, set off the conflict that unfolded this past week.

On Sunday, Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad declared a truce to stop the fighting.

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What is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant faction, like Hamas, but is smaller in size. Like Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has been designated a terrorist organization by the US, Israel, and the EU.

As per a report by think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was founded in 1982 by Fathi Abd al-Aziz al-Shikaki, a physician from Rafah, Gaza. Although it had its origins in the network of the Muslim Botherhood, according to the report, it has over the years developed into a distinct organisation “shaped by growing militarism and heavily influenced by the 1979 Iranian Revolution”.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s operations are markedly different from Hamas, experts say, and those differences have existed since the group’s origins. According to the European Council on Foreign Relations report, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad does not operate as a community-based movement like Hamas does, but rather “an elite vanguard…and is opposed to political engagement with Israel”.

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Although it does not get as much international attention as Hamas, it has a long history of conflict with Israel and its approach is focused on military confrontation, through its al-Quds Brigades. Its presence is spread across the West Bank and Gaza. Although the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an entity entirely different from Hamas, the two groups have been known to come together during joint operations in the past, a report by DW said.

What does the Palestinian Islamic Jihad want?

According to a report by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a nonprofit and non-partisan international policy organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad “is dedicated to eradicating Israel and establishing an autonomous Islamic Palestinian state in the lands currently comprising Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The PIJ believes that the land of Palestine is consecrated for Islam, that Israel usurped Palestine, something they consider an an affront to God and Islam. As a result, the report states, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad rejects a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In line with its ideologies, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is also strongly critical of Palestinian authorities making concessions, and particulalry of Palestinian authorities conducting political engagement with Israel. Researchers believe that over the past decade, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has only grown and has become more influential in the region.

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Israel has previously accused the Palestinian Islamic Jihad of having extenisve quantities of low-cost weapons scattered across the West Bank and Gaza, and has also accused the group of having military bases and arsenals in Syria. Israel has also accused the group of having ties with Iran and has accused Tehran of providing military training and support to the group’s al-Quds Brigades.

Why has the conflict been different this time?

A New York Times report said the latest conflict was unique because of the lack of involvement by Hamas. The report speculated several reasons why this may have happened: “Hamas showed sensitivity to Palestinian fatigue at the prospect of yet another confrontation with Israel, at least the sixth during Hamas’s tenure. It also suggested that Hamas was wary of losing several small but significant economic measures that Israel has offered Gaza since the last major confrontation in May 2021, including 14,000 Israeli work permits that boosted the strip’s economy,” the New York Times report said.

First published on: 11-08-2022 at 06:09:30 pm
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