The period of calm is over and the Palestinians should be prepared to resume their attacks on Israel, a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the Gaza Strip declared on Tuesday.
“We maintain the right to respond to the crimes of (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon,” said Khaled al-Batsh, responding to Israel’s killing of a top Islamic Jihad activist near Jenin.
PA security sources in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Islamic Jihad and other radical groups were seeking to undermine Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas by carrying out terror attacks on Israel.
“They are acting against the national interests of the Palestinians,” said one source. “They want to destroy all the achievements that President Abbas has made over the last few months.”
Islamic Jihad was one of the few Palestinian groups that had refused to accept the tahdiah (calm) agreement that was reached in Cairo in February between Abbas and other Palestinian factions, including Hamas.
Israeli security sources said the group, which is strong in Samaria but also has cells in Judea, has the potential of disrupting the entire process with the Palestinians. The organization is relatively small compared to Hamas, but it is deadly. The Islamic Jihad is responsible for killing 84 Israelis in their suicide bombings since September 2000.
The sources said the Islamic Jihad does not see itself bound by the cease-fire like Hamas, which is a very disciplined organization. Their main cities of operation are Tulkarm, Ramallah and Bethlehem. In the past, its chief power base was in Jenin, but that cell is still recovering from being targeted by Israel.
Since the beginning of the so-called cease-fire, Islamic Jihad has been under orders from Damascus to renovate their terrorist infrastructure to prepare for “quality” attacks.
It succeeded in carrying out the suicide bombing on Tel Aviv’s Stage nightclub in February which killed five people, and continues to plan and attempt to execute suicide attacks. Security forces last week foiled two suicide bombings aimed for Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood.
Following the Stage suicide bombing, both Israel and the PA launched a crackdown on Islamic Jihad, arresting and killing some of the group’s senior members in the West Bank.
Leaders of the group in the Gaza Strip were quick to distance themselves from the Tel Aviv bombing, claiming that a tiny cell had carried out the attack on its own and without consulting with the Islamic Jihad leadership.
According to Batsh, Israel has over the past two months stepped up its offensive against Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank, mainly because of the group’s refusal to publicly accept the truce. Moreover, he cited Islamic Jihad’s refusal to succumb to American and European pressure to abandon terrorism and transform into a political party as another reason for the ongoing Israeli onslaught.
Islamic Jihad leaders are equally angry with the PA, accusing the Palestinian security forces of aiding Israel in its crackdown on the group’s members in the West Bank.
There was the relative large wave of arrests last week that nabbed six key Islamic Jihad terrorists and this is having impact on the organization, which has seen some 60 of its members detained in the past month.
“We are under attack by the Palestinian Authority and Israel and we have the right to respond,” said a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza City. Asked why his group was continuing to plan and carry out attacks against Israel in spite of the truce agreement, he replied: “Israel has been violating this agreement from day one by arresting and killing our men. In addition, Israel is continuing to build settlements and the racist separation wall and is trying to destroy the Aksa Mosque. We are only responding to the Israeli violations.”