Military court extends detention of Islamic Jihad leader that sparked Gaza conflict

Bassem Saadi to remain in custody until August 16 at least; terror group has threatened to resume fighting if he is not released

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Bassem Saadi is seen at a military court in the West Bank, August 11, 2022. (Doron Kadosh/Army Radio, courtesy)
Bassem Saadi is seen at a military court in the West Bank, August 11, 2022. (Doron Kadosh/Army Radio, courtesy)

A military court on Thursday extended the remand of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad member, a week after his arrest sparked a round of fighting between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Bassem Saadi was arrested on August 1 by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin. The PIJ at the time announced it was declaring a state of alert, and the Israel Defense Forces said it had “concrete” indications of an “imminent” attack on the Gaza border, putting the area on lockdown for several days.

The IDF then on Friday launched a series of airstrikes in Gaza against a senior PIJ commander and several anti-tank guided missile squads, which prompted rocket fire from the Strip.

After nearly three days of fighting a ceasefire agreement was signed, which reportedly included “Egypt’s commitment to work towards the release of” Saadi and another Palestinian detainee, Khalil Awawdeh, a terror group spokesperson said.

Israel has no intention of releasing the prisoners early, officials said after the ceasefire. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he was “not familiar with a promise to release terrorists.”

Still, “I don’t want to simply promise they won’t be released. We don’t hold people in prison for nothing,” Gantz told Channel 12 news in an interview.

Saadi’s detention was extended by six days, until August 16.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

On Wednesday the UN’s Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said his office dispatched a team to visit Saadi.

Wennesland said the visit was part of the UN’s commitments in the ceasefire negotiated by Egypt that brought an end to a three-day conflict between Israel and PIJ.

“I reiterate that the ceasefire in Gaza is very fragile and I call on all sides to preserve the calm,” Wennesland said on Twitter.

PIJ, meanwhile, has threatened to resume fighting if Israel fails to release Saadi and Awawdeh, who is currently on a hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention by Israel.

There was no immediate statement from the terror group regarding the extension of Saadi’s detention.

The West Bank head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Bassam al-Saadi, is seen shortly after his arrest by Israeli troops on August 2, 2022. (Courtesy)

Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years, according to the Shin Bet.

The Shin Bet said that in recent months Saadi “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, in which he was behind the creation of a significant military force of the organization in Samaria in general and in Jenin in particular,” referring to the northern West Bank.

“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.

Tensions have remained high in the West Bank, as Israeli security forces stepped up arrest raids and operations following a deadly wave of terror attacks against Israelis that left 19 people dead earlier this year.

In predawn raids across the West Bank, troops arrested eight wanted Palestinians, with violent confrontations in some areas, the IDF said Thursday morning.

On Tuesday morning three armed Palestinians, including a wanted terror operative, were killed during a military raid in the West Bank city of Nablus.

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