Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhaleh has warned that should Israel harm or kill members of armed Palestinian factions, Islamic Jihad will respond with force and target major cities in the Jewish state.
Nakhaleh, who was named the new Islamic Jihad chief in September 2018, made the comments after the Israel Defense Forces accused operatives in the terror group of firing a rocket that landed off the Israeli coast Monday evening.
Asked by Dar al-Hayat, an Arabic-language news site, whether Islamic Jihad feared Israel carrying out assassinations against its members, Nakhaleh stated: “If you intend by your question to [refer] to the threats in recent days connected to rocket-fire, I clearly state that we will respond with force and attack major cities, if any harm is done to [members of] the resistance or premeditated assassinations are carried out against them, regardless of their organizational roles.”
Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, is considered the second-most powerful terror group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, the coastal enclave’s de facto rulers; it has an arsenal of rockets that can reach deep into Israel.
The IDF said on Tuesday that the group had “intentionally fired” the rocket from northern Gaza in an effort to derail ongoing efforts to maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and other terror groups.
This is Bahaa Abu-Ala’ta, the #Gaza Commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Last night, his operatives fired a rocket at #Israel to bring about an escalation. Thankfully, the rocket landed in the sea.
The IDF remains ready and committed to defend Israel against such terror. pic.twitter.com/rLD27pK8CG
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) April 30, 2019
The IDF also specifically accused operatives under the command of Bahaa Abu al-Ata, a senior official who is responsible for the group’s military activities in northern Gaza, of firing the rocket.
The IDF identifying Abu al-Ata by name could be seen as a tacit threat; the military also tweeted out his photograph. The IDF has targeted Abu al-Ata in the past, including during the 2014 Gaza war.
Islamic Jihad official Walid al-Qatati, however, denied later on Tuesday that the terror group stood behind the rocket fire.
“The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, has not announced that it shot a rocket toward the occupation,” Qatati told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today. “This accusation is a fabrication that the occupation wants [to use in order to achieve] specific goals, most important of which is inciting against Islamic Jihad.”
Nakhaleh also said that if members of terror groups were harmed, Islamic Jihad would respond with force and target large Israeli cities “irrespective of whether understandings have been reached or will be reached.”
Last month, Israel and Hamas reached unofficial Egyptian-brokered ceasefire understandings, under which terror groups in the Strip would scale back violence along the Gaza border in exchange for economic and humanitarian concessions by Israel.
While there has not been a complete cessation of violence along the Gaza border since the ceasefire went into effect last month, the situation there has been relatively calm.