Islamic Jihad chief said in coma; group denies reports of poisoning

Terror organization insists Ramadan Shalah, who underwent surgery in Lebanon recently, is ill due to ‘natural causes’

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Ramadan Shalah, Head of Islamic Jihad, at a press conference in Damascus on Saturday December 16, 2006 (AP Photo Bassem Tellawi).
Ramadan Shalah, Head of Islamic Jihad, at a press conference in Damascus on Saturday December 16, 2006 (AP Photo Bassem Tellawi).

Ramadan Shalah, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, has reportedly been in a coma for the past few weeks amid fears that he may have been poisoned.

On Tuesday, however, the group denied that Shalah had been the target of an assassination attempt, saying his illness was the result of “natural causes.”

“Shalah is suffering from a natural illness and we wish him speedy recovery,” said Ahmed Al Mudalal, a senior Islamic Jihad official. He did not say what Shalah was suffering from. Also, he would neither confirm nor deny the reports stating Shalah was in a coma.

Shalah, 60, was transferred from Damascus, where he lives, to a hospital in Beirut after suffering a series of heart attacks, a source close to the group told the Palestinian Quds Press news agency.

Shalah has been unconscious since undergoing surgery at the Beirut hospital, the report said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, which is based in Lebanon, has “shown great interest” in the health condition of Shalah, it said.

Although the source attributed the Islamic Jihad leader’s deteriorating health to “natural causes,” the Palestinian Authority embassy in Beirut believes there’s a possibility Shalah may have been poisoned.

The man in charge of security at the embassy sent a report to the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank in which he raised the possibility that Shalah had been poisoned, the news agency said, quoting an unnamed source in the PA’s ruling Fatah faction.

That report, according to the news agency, said that two parties may have been behind the alleged poisoning: the Israeli Mossad or a security agency “belonging to a regional country.” The report did not name the country.

Shalah, who was born in the Gaza Strip, was appointed head of the terror group after the assassination of his predecessor, Fathi Shikaki, in 2005 in Malta.

Closely allied with Iran and Syria, Islamic Jihad is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was formed in Gaza in 1981. Active in both Gaza and the West Bank, it seeks the destruction of Israel and has carried out numerous bombings and suicide attacks on Israeli targets, and fired rockets into Israel from Gaza.

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