Report: Captured shepherd told Israel of Islamic Jihad kidnapping plot

Iran-backed terror group reportedly denies claims by Israeli officials that it was planning a terror attack along the border to derail ceasefire negotiations

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Members of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group march, during a military parade in Gaza City, on October 4, 2018. (Anas Baba/AFP Photo)
Members of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group march, during a military parade in Gaza City, on October 4, 2018. (Anas Baba/AFP Photo)

Israel learned of an alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad plot to conduct a terror attack along the Gaza border from a member of the group who was captured by security forces last week, a Palestinian newspaper reported Sunday.

According to the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper, Israeli soldiers arrested a Palestinian man herding sheep near the Gaza security fence. Under interrogation, he reportedly told them he was a member of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, and revealed that the group was planning to abduct either a soldier stationed near the border or a civilian worker constructing the new barrier around the coastal enclave.

Last Monday, Israeli defense officials warned that the group appeared to be planning to conduct a large-scale terror attack on the Gaza border, in order to derail ongoing Egyptian-led ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

The Islamic Jihad has denied that it was planning such an attack. According to al-Quds, the terror group told the Egyptian military delegation leading the negotiation efforts that it plans to uphold any agreement reached.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is the second-most powerful terror group in the Gaza Strip, after the coastal enclave’s de facto rulers, Hamas, though it is believed to have a slightly larger arsenal of rockets and mortar shells, mostly locally manufactured varieties, based on Iranian designs.

Fighters from the Al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad terror group’s military wing, take part in a military march in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 15, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The group is also suspected of being responsible for two rocket attacks on southern Israel last Sunday that did not cause injury or damage.

According to last Monday’s reports, the PIJ operatives along the border appeared to be preparing for some kind of an attack, though the details were initially unclear.

In recent weeks, Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect ceasefire negotiations, with Egypt and the United Nations acting as mediators.

Under the Egyptian-led plan, Israel is to offer a number of economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm — not only an end to rocket attacks, but to all violence on the border, including the launching of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel.

While Israel officially refuses to recognize its participation in these negotiations, recent weeks have seen a stark drop in the intensity and number of riots along the security fence, as well as a near cessation of cross-border arson and explosives attacks.

At the same time, Israel has significantly expanded the coastal enclave’s fishing zone to 15 nautical miles, a permitted distance not seen in over 20 years.

On Friday, over 10,000 Palestinians participated in weekly protests and riots along the Gaza border.

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during clashes, amid a mass-demonstration marking the first anniversary of the March of Return protests, near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Despite calls by organizers and armed factions to avoid violence, clashes were reported. Some protesters hurled rocks and explosive devices at Israeli troops, who responded with less-lethal measures. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 70 people had been injured, one of them critically.

By nightfall the protesters had disbanded. A Palestinian who crossed the border was detained by Israeli troops.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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