JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Thursday it has filed terror charges against a senior member of the Islamic Jihad militant group whose arrest in the occupied West Bank helped spark three days of heavy fighting in Gaza earlier this month.
Islamic Jihad had demanded the release of Bassam al-Saadi and another detained Palestinian who is on a prolonged hunger strike as part of the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended the fighting. The indictment signals that those demands will not be met.
The military said al-Saadi, 62, stands accused of “committing crimes of affiliation with and activity in an illegal association” and receiving funds from Islamic Jihad in Gaza, as well as “impersonation, incitement and aiding contact with enemy elements,” the military said.
Islamic Jihad is an Iran-sponsored Palestinian militant group that is opposed to Israel’s existence and has carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years targeting Israeli civilians. It operates in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Al-Saadi was arrested earlier this month during a night-time military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. In response to his arrest, Islamic Jihad said it was going “on alert.”
Israel says the group was planning a revenge attack from Gaza. In response to what it said was an imminent threat, Israel launched a wave of airstrikes in Gaza that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander. The militants began launching hundreds of rockets at Israel hours later.
The flare-up left 49 Palestinians dead, including the militant group’s top two commanders and 10 other fighters, before the cease-fire took effect. Gazan militants fired some 1,100 rockets, but no one on the Israeli side was killed or seriously wounded.
It was the deadliest exchange of fire since last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza for the last 15 years — and which did not take part in the latest fighting.
Despite the lopsided toll, Islamic Jihad has held rallies across Gaza in recent days, including on Thursday, on the main road of Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood. At a rally Wednesday in the southern town of Rafah, the militants displayed life-sized replicas of rockets.
Al-Saadi has spent a total of 15 years over several stints in Israeli jails for being an Islamic Jihad member. Israel killed two of his sons, who were also Islamic Jihad militants, in separate incidents in 2002, and destroyed his home during a fierce battle in Jenin that year.
Israeli forces have carried out regular operations into Jenin in recent months that the military says are aimed at dismantling militant networks in the wake of several deadly attacks inside Israel. The raids often ignite gunbattles with Palestinian militants.
Since seizing power in 2007, Hamas has fought four wars with Israel, often with support from Islamic Jihad fighters. In the past, Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza have challenged Hamas by firing rockets, often without claiming responsibility, to raise the group’s profile.
Israel and Western countries consider both Hamas and Islamic Jihad to be terrorist groups because they have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years targeting Israeli civilians. Many Palestinians view the militants as freedom fighters resisting Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for their future state.