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Tags: israel | palestinians | islamicjihad | hamas

Islamic Jihad: The Palestinian Militant Group Targeted by Israel in Gaza

Rockets light up the night sky over Gaza City.

A picture taken Friday shows Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza City in retaliation to earlier Israeli airstrikes. (Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

Saturday, 06 August 2022 11:36 AM EDT

Israeli officials say airstrikes on Gaza have targeted the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement rather than Hamas, the militant group that rules the enclave. What is the difference between the two groups?

The Islamic Jihad is a militant group allied with Hamas, both with a background in the Muslim Brotherhood, a shared hostility to Israel and an ideological commitment to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state.

But the two groups have separate identities and some differences.

Whereas Hamas leaders have made statements softening their commitment to the destruction of Israel, the smaller Islamic Jihad has made no such move and rejects any compromises with Israel.

On Friday, as he explained the airstrikes on Israeli television, Prime Minister Yair Lapid described the group as "an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the state of Israel."

While it does not have as many long-range rockets as Hamas, Islamic Jihad does have a significant arsenal of small arms, mortars, rockets and antitank missiles and an active armed wing called the al-Quds, or Jerusalem Brigades, that has attacked many Israeli targets over the years.

Commander Killed

Friday's airstrikes killed Taiseer al-Jabari, a senior commander whom Israel said was the commander of the movement's northern region, responsible for planning attacks against Israeli citizens and military targets.

Up-to-date figures on Islamic Jihad's strength are difficult to come by, with estimates from last year ranging from about 1,000 to several thousand, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

Both Hamas, which has fought five conflicts with Israel since 2009, and Islamic Jihad are listed as terrorist organizations by the West. Both get funds and weapons from Iran, where Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah was reported to have been meeting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the day of the strikes.

Unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad refuses to join elections and appears to have no ambition to form a government in Gaza or the West Bank.

West Bank

Islamic Jihad maintains a significant presence in the West Bank town of Jenin, where Bassam al-Saadi, a senior leader of the movement, was arrested last week, setting off the crisis that led to Friday's strikes.

However, the group's focus on militant activity means it does not have anything like the same infrastructure or responsibilities as Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, in charge of government and day-to-day needs of more than 2.3 million people.

Little more than a year since the 11-day war of May 2021, which inflicted huge damage on Gaza's economy, Israel's explicit focus on Islamic Jihad targets appears intended to convince Hamas to stay out of the fighting itself.

Zvika Haimovich, a former commander of the Israel Air Defense Forces who served in previous operations against Gaza in 2012 and 2014, said there were significant disagreements with Islamic Jihad that could make Hamas stay out.

"The direct immediate interest of Hamas is not to join this operation," he said.

"If Hamas joins this operation it will change totally the situation that we are talking about."

© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Israeli officials say airstrikes on Gaza have targeted the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement rather than Hamas, the militant group which rules the enclave. What is the difference between the two groups?
israel, palestinians, islamicjihad, hamas
Saturday, 06 August 2022 11:36 AM
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