In clashes reminiscent of the 11-day war in Gaza last year, Israel and Palestinian militants once again engaged in a series of airstrikes and rocket attacks over the weekend. This time around, however, Hamas, the militant group that governs the region, was not in involved in the conflict at all.
A ceasefire agreement between Israel and the militant group known as the the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), took effect on 7 August, in a bid to end three days of violence between the two sides leading to the killing of dozens of Palestinians. Hamas has refused to get involved in this current conflict.
This was the worst fighting in Gaza since the 2021 violence, which saw Hamas and Israel fire hundreds of rockets at each, killing hundreds, mostly Palestinians.
The US has welcomed the ceasefire, and President Joe Biden has expressed regret over "reports of civilian casualties in Gaza," calling them "a tragedy, whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza."
Ziad al-Nakhalah, the leader of the PIJ, promised retaliation against Israel. "The Zionist enemy started this aggression and it must expect us to fight non-stop … There will be no truce after this bombing. There are no red lines in this battle … Tel Aviv will also be one of the targets of the resistance’s missiles … as will all Zionist cities," he was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
But how much do we know about the 1981-established PIJ, officially known as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine?
Origins and Objectives of Palestinian Islamic Jihad
The organisation was established more than 40 years ago by two Palestinian activists who were originally part of the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (founded in Egypt) – Abd Al Aziz Awda and Fathi Shaqaqi (who was assassinated in 1995 by Mossag agents).
It wants to establish a sovereign and Islamic state of Palestine, with the borders before 1948, the year in which Israel was created. Its stated objectives include the destruction Israel.
The PIJ has been behind multiple suicide bombings in Israel, the first of which was the 1989 Tel Aviv–Jerusalem bus 405 suicide attack, which killed 16 civilians.
Other attacks include a 2001 suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 people, and a 2002 suicide attack at the Meggido Junction, an intersection of highways in Israel, in which 18 people died.
Like Hamas, the PIJ has been listed as a "terrorist organisation" by the West. Iran plays a key role in supporting the PIJ with funds and weapons. The leader of the militant group, Ziad al-Nakhalah, met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other Iranian officials on the day the attacks started.
Unlike Hamas, which is arguably limited in its ability to act without restraint against Israel because it is responsible for governing Gaza, the PIJ focuses purely on militancy, sometimes even undermining the political authority of Hamas. It has no interest in elections or governance.
"Though it is a small group, Islamic Jihad is very efficient and highly organised. There is a strong order within the party itself. Despite its small size, it has participated in all the confrontations with Israel," Ibrahim Fraihat from the Doha Institute told Al Jazeera.
Areas of Operation
Although its base is in Gaza, the PIJ is also active in the West Bank, especially in the town of Jenin, where Bassam al-Saadi, a senior leader of the PIJ was arrested last week. The arrest reportedly catalysed the current crisis.
"In the West Bank it has a presence, I’d say similar to Gaza. But it is not about the size it is about power, efficiency, and the ability to engage militarily in a confrontation with Israel. And for that reason, Israel is trying arrest its leaders in the West Bank and to contain any action that Islamic Jihad might escalate," Fraihat explained to Al Jazeera about the militant group's presence.
The militant group also has its branches in Lebanon and Syria, from where it ensures close ties with Iran. In fact, it was expelled from Gaza in 1987 after which it shifted its base to Lebanon to develop a relationship with Hezbollah. The group also received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Currently, the PIJ operated secretly with less than 1,000 members, according to the CIA'S World Factbook. Its popularity in Gaza is also limited, which means it does not have much to lose by carrying out attacks in Israel.
(With inputs from Reuters, AP, and Al Jazeera.)
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