Terror charges filed against Islamic Jihad leader whose arrest sparked Gaza conflict

Bassem Saadi’s indictment includes charges of membership in terror group, incitement, assuming false identity; his detention is extended until Sunday

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 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/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 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Military prosecutors on Thursday filed an indictment against 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.

Bassem Saadi’s indictment included charges of membership in a terror group (the PIJ), conducting operations on behalf of the terror group, incitement to terrorism, assisting others to contact an enemy, and assuming a false identity.

A military court further extended Saadi’s remand on Thursday, ordering him held until Sunday, when a hearing will be held to have him remain under arrest until the end of legal proceedings. There was no immediate date scheduled for his trial.

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.

According to the indictment, Saadi worked to assist two other Palestinians to “advance activities” of the PIJ’s student council, which is considered by Israel to be a part of the outlawed group. The pair received $5,000 from a terror operative in the Gaza Strip for the activities, according to the indictment.

The charge of incitement was given over May interview in which Saadi said if Israeli troops enter the Jenin refugee camp “and went door to door, God forbid, then the resistance would rise like ‘phoenixes’ from the fire or the coals… the Jenin refugee camp is a part of the Palestinian people who remain to fight until they are removed from our land, sea, sky, and holy places.”

A gunman affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, marches as men carry the body of Dirar al-Kafrayni, killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin, during his funeral at the Jenin refugee camp, on August 2, 2022. (Jaafar Ashitiyeh/AFP)

During his arrest on August 1, Saadi identified himself to troops as his brother Ghassan, and was therefore also charged with assuming a false identity, according to the indictment.

In response to Saadi’s arrest, the PIJ 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 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 in an operation called Breaking Dawn, 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. Awawdeh’s administrative detention has been temporarily suspended, but Israel’s top court has denied him a full release.

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)

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

There was no immediate statement from the terror group in response to the indictment.

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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