The Palestinian Islamic Jihad on Sunday said Israeli threats against the terror group’s leaders constituted “an act of war” and vowed to continue to try to carry out a revenge attack against Israel.
The “threats to target the movement’s leadership is a declaration of war, which we will confront,” Islamic Jihad said, according to a statement carried by its media affiliate Palestine Today News Agency.
On Saturday, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who runs the Defense Ministry’s chief liaison office with the Palestinians, publicly warned Islamic Jihad not to try to retaliate for Israel’s destruction last month of one of its terror tunnels dug into Israeli territory.
Mordechai, speaking in a video posted to YouTube, addressed by name the terror group’s leader, Ramadan Shalah, and his deputy, Ziad Nakhaleh, who run the Gaza-based group from Damascus, and said they would be “held responsible” should Islamic Jihad attack Israel.
In his video, Mordechai said that Israel is “aware of the plot that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is planning against Israel,” and warned that “any attack by the Islamic Jihad will be met with a powerful and determined Israeli response, not only against the Jihad, but also against Hamas.”
Islamic Jihad said it would not back down on its “right” to retaliate against Israel for the tunnel explosion, which lead to the death of 12 terror group members, 10 from Islamic Jihad, including two commanders, and two members of Hamas’s military wing.
“We reaffirm our right to respond to any aggression, including our right to respond to the crime of aggression on the resistance tunnel,” the terror group’s statement said.
On October 30, the Israel Defense Forces blew up a tunnel that originated in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and crossed into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kissufim.
According to the army, the tunnel had been under surveillance the entire time that it was inside Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.
The army said later that killing the terrorists was not the primary objective of the tunnel demolition.
The bodies of five terrorists who were working on the tunnel inside Israeli territory were recovered by the IDF, the army said.
According to Palestinian media, Hamas encouraged Islamic Jihad to abstain from retaliating, both in order to prevent further escalation with Israel and to prevent the reconciliation talks it has been conducting with the Palestinian Authority from falling apart.
In his YouTube message, Mordechai referred to these reconciliation efforts, saying the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was “playing with fire” and potentially threatening them, as well as the safety of Gaza Strip residents.
Earlier this month, a senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command warned that the military suspected the terror group may retaliate for the tunnel demolition with attacks on soldiers serving near the border, rocket fire at southern Israeli communities or terror attacks in the West Bank.
“The [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad will have a hard time holding back,” said the unnamed senior official.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.