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Islamic Jihad chief will visit Russia at Moscow’s invitation, terror group says

Gaza-based organization doesn’t say when Ziad al-Nakhaleh will make trip; announcement comes on heels of meeting slated to take place between Russia’s FM and Hamas head

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Ziad al-Nakhala, secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, delivering a televised speech on December 19, 2019. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Ziad al-Nakhala, secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, delivering a televised speech on December 19, 2019. (Screenshot: YouTube)

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group announced on Sunday that it had accepted an invitation from the Russian Foreign Ministry for its chief, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, to visit Moscow.

The terror group did not specify when Nakhaleh would travel to the Moscow or whether he would meet with Russian officials, saying only it was “carrying out the necessary measures for the visit.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a meeting that is slated to take place on Monday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Since December 2019, Haniyeh has made several trips abroad, visiting Turkey, Qatar, Iran, and Oman.

Islamic Jihad’s announcement also comes a week after it engaged in the most significant escalation in tensions with Israel in and around Gaza since November 2019 — when the Jewish state eliminated Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander in the terror group, in a targeted killing.

The fighting last week was touched off last Sunday morning when Israel killed a member of Islamic Jihad, who the IDF said was placing a bomb along the border fence between the Jewish state and Gaza, and then sent a bulldozer into the coastal enclave to retrieve his body, in an operation caught on film that angered many in the territory.

An explosion is seen following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City in response to the firing of rockets by Palestinian terrorists in the coastal enclave toward Israel, February 24, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The recovery of the body appeared to be a part of Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s announced plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations to bring two Israelis and the remains of two soldiers believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza back to Israel.

In response, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza terror groups fired approximately 100 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel. Some 90 percent of the projectiles heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, according to the IDF, though one managed to slam into a playground in Sderot, and falling shrapnel caused damage elsewhere. There were no serious injuries on the Israeli side.

Israel responded to the rocket fire with several rounds of airstrikes in Gaza and Syria, killing at least two members of the group near Damascus, before a ceasefire on Tuesday was called.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in the coastal enclave said at least eight were injured in the wake of the strikes.

Islamic Jihad, similar to Hamas, is backed by Iran, and Nakhaleh has frequently praised Tehran for its support of Palestinian terror groups.

Russia also hosted Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last Friday.

Sheikh, the head of PA Civil Affairs Commission, met Lavrov and discussed Russian-Palestinian relations with him, the official PA news site Wafa reported.

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