Israel said on Wednesday it had resumed a “targeted killing” policy against leaders of Islamic Jihad, underlining how far a ceasefire with the Palestinians has frayed since a February summit that revived hopes of Middle East peace.
Islamic Jihad chose Bait Lahya in the Gaza Strip for its Friday rally. Around 1000 faithful turned up to condemn Israel‘s decision and pledge retaliation. “Blood for blood and a shelling for a shelling!” they chanted.
But the group’s chiefs and masked fighters who normally join such rallies were absent this time. Even the group’s main spokesman Khaled al-Batsh remained in a car some distance from the rally.
An Islamic Jihad leaflet distributed to marchers said: “We urge our mujahidin to take maximum precautions to foil any chance for the occupation and its planes to eliminate us.”
Batsh told Reuters: “The enemy is flying dozens of drones in our skies. Certainly we must be more careful. God has ordered us to take care against the plans of the Zionist enemy.”
Israel shelved assassinations of resistance leaders in February as part of the truce deal between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Sharon (L) and Abbas signed a
But truce violations have multiplied in recent weeks, with both sides trading blame.
The violence has raised fears that Israel‘s planned pullout from occupied Gaza in August could be disrupted, and has dampened hopes for peace talks afterwards.
An Israeli aircraft fired missiles at four Islamic Jihad fighters in the Gaza town of Bait Lahya on Wednesday as they were firing rockets into Israel. No one was hurt but a rocket was destroyed.
Other resistance groups have mostly honoured a pledge of de facto “calm” but Islamic Jihad, with a small popular following and little stake in peacemaking, has displayed less restraint.
It is sworn to Israel‘s destruction and has carried out the only bombing since the February ceasefire declaration – an attack in Tel Aviv that killed five people.
“God has ordered us to take care against the plans of the Zionist enemy”
In addition to reviving its assassination policy, Israel has rounded up more than 60 suspected Islamic Jihad fighters in the past few days. It has killed six Islamic Jihad men during the truce.
Abbas and Sharon pledged at a summit on Wednesday to work to preserve the truce and coordinate security steps to enable a smooth evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
Islamic Jihad says it has been provoked by continued Israeli raids to capture wanted fighters since the 8 February truce deal and by killings of both its comrades and 20 other Palestinians, some in disputed circumstances.
Israel says violators of the truce are bent on forcing Abbas to share power with them and crippling his bid to seek a Palestinian state through peace negotiations.