Israel to charge Islamic Jihad’s West Bank leader with terror activities, incitement

Bassem Saadi’s detention extended until August 25 as IDF indictment to be filed in coming days; his arrest sparked recent Gaza conflict

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

Bassem Saadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the West Bank, appears for a hearing at Ofer prison, outside of Jerusalem, on August 21, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Bassem Saadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the West Bank, appears for a hearing at Ofer prison, outside of Jerusalem, on August 21, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday announced it would formally charge a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad member whose arrest at the beginning of the month sparked a round of fighting between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip.

According to the IDF, Bassem Saadi’s upcoming indictment was to include charges of membership in a terror group (the PIJ), conducting operations for said terror group, incitement, and supporting terrorism.

A military court further extended Saadi’s remand on Sunday, ordering him to be held until August 25.

Saadi, the leader of the terror group in the West Bank, was arrested on August 1 by Israeli troops in the Palestinian city of Jenin. His arrest followed intelligence information indicating that Saadi had continued to be active in the PIJ, a military source said.

The PIJ in response announced it was declaring a state of alert. The Israel Defense Forces, saying it had concrete indications of an imminent attack on the Gaza border, put the area on lockdown for several days.

The lockdown was maintained for four days amid concerns that PIJ would try to fire anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets along the border. Eventually, the IDF 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 toward 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. But on Friday, Awawdeh’s administrative detention was temporarily suspended.

Protesters gather with a Palestinian flag outside the hospital in Be’er Yaakov where a hunger-striking security prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh, pictured in the placards, detained by Israel as an alleged terrorist, is in deteriorating health, August 13, 2022. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

This was to allow the hunger-striking prisoner to receive medical care as his health had rapidly deteriorated after nearly six months without food. The court said his detention will resume once his condition improves and he can return to jail.

Awadeh’s lawyer was quoted by Palestinian media as saying his “hunger strike will not be suspended because he is asking for his release and not for a freeze of his detention.”

PIJ, meanwhile, has threatened to resume fighting if Israel fails to release Saadi and Awawdeh.

The Ofer court, located in the West Bank, has already extended Saadi’s detention three times since his arrest. There was no immediate statement from the terror group in response to Sunday’s decision.

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

The security service 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.

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