An official in the Islamic Jihad terror group on Sunday threatened to end a three-week ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip if Israel prohibited its leader, Ramadan Shalah, from entering the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
The threat appeared to be a response to an Israeli announcement last week that if Shalah accompanied Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal on Mashaal’s visit to the Gaza Strip over the weekend, Israel would see it as a breach of the truce.
Islamic Jihad appeared to heed Jerusalem’s announcement, as Shalah was not on hand when Mashaal arrived in Gaza late last week. According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, the Islamic Jihad leader had decided to cancel his visit due to explicit Israeli assassination threats against himself and his deputy, Ziad Nakhaleh. Israel’s message was reportedly relayed to the group by Egypt.
“We had hoped that Dr. Shalah could have visited Gaza accompanied by Hamas leader Mashaal, but the Israeli occupier had a different opinion,” Jihad official Khaled Al-Batsh reportedly said during a public meeting in Gaza, emphasizing that the Palestinian faction would not accept the terms of the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire so long as its leader was banned from the Strip.
“We want Palestinian unity and national reconciliation, and we want to see unity embodied when Shalah and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, visit the Gaza Strip along with all resistance factions,” Ma’an quoted Al-Batsh as saying. “After that we will focus our efforts on our enemy [Israel].”
Shalah took over as leader of Islamic Jihad in 1995, following the assassination of the group’s founder, Fathi Shaqaqi.
Mashaal’s visit to Gaza, the Hamas leader’s first sojourn in the territory, comes in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day battle between Israel and the terror factions in Gaza that was for the most part restricted to Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks, and did not lead to an Israeli invasion of the territory.
On Saturday, Mashaal gave a vitriolic public speech in which he claimed victory in the latest round of violence and promised to continue fighting until all of Palestine was liberated.