What Is Islamic Jihad and Why Is Israel Targeting It?

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What Is Islamic Jihad and Why Is Israel Targeting It?

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group based in Gaza, was the target of Israeli airstrikes early Tuesday, and was at the center of a flare-up in violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip last summer.

The second-largest Palestinian armed group in Gaza, Islamic Jihad has often been eclipsed by the larger Hamas movement, which has controlled and governed Gaza since 2007.

Islamic Jihad was founded in the 1980s in the Gaza Strip to fight the Israeli occupation and maintains a presence in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Iran supports both groups with funding and weapons, and Israel and the United States list both as terrorist organizations.

The Israeli military said on Tuesday that it had targeted and killed three Islamic Jihad leaders that it said had been responsible for rocket attacks against Israel and other attacks against Israeli citizens in the occupied West Bank.

The three men killed were: Khalil Bahitini, the commander of the group’s northern Gaza Strip region; Tareq Ezzedine, another senior leader of the group, and Jihad Al-Ghanam, the secretary of the group’s military council.

Islamic Jihad called the killings “an assassination” and said that some of the wives and children of the men had also been killed.

“We affirm that the blood of the martyrs will increase our resolve, and we will not leave our positions, and the resistance will continue,” it said in a statement.

The group vowed to retaliate against Israel.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are often united against their common enemy, Israel. They are the most important members of the joint operations room which coordinates most military activity among the various armed groups in the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza.

But at times it is a tense relationship, especially when Hamas has exerted pressure on Islamic Jihad to stop attacks or retaliation against Israel.

Islamic Jihad often acts independently of Hamas and is focused primarily on military confrontations. This has at times drawn Hamas into battle. On other occasions, Hamas has stayed on the sidelines as Islamic Jihad has clashed with Israel.

Three days of fierce cross-border attacks between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza in August ended in an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire after the most intense round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in more than a year.

The Israeli military began the hostilities when it assassinated a leader of Islamic Jihad with missile strikes, saying it was acting to thwart an imminent attack. It hit targets in the Gaza Strip from the air, land and sea. Islamic Jihad responded with about 1,100 rockets and mortar shells toward Israeli territory, the military said.

At least 44 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, 15 of them children, and 360 people were injured, with 20 of them in serious condition, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said at the time.

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