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HomeWORLDBehind the Headlines! The Role of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Hospital...

Behind the Headlines! The Role of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Hospital Blast, Explained

As tensions in the area increase, investigate the specifics behind the Islamic Jihad Group's purported role in the Gaza hospital explosion.

Israel Palestine Conflict: On Tuesday, a huge explosion tore through a Gaza hospital, leaving at least 500 people dead. Global indignation over the occurrence led to protests in a number of nations with a majority of Muslims. While travelling to Israel, US President Joe Biden condemned the incident, which Israel and Palestine took turns blaming for.

Understanding Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)

The Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital explosion was carried out by Israel, according to the Gaza health ministry headed by Hamas, despite the Israeli army blaming a “misfired rocket” fired by Palestine’s Islamic Jihad group. But what is this group of Islamic Jihad?

Origins of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its Conflict with Israel

The US State Department has designated the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an associate of Hamas, as a terrorist organisation due to its violent opposition to Israel. Fathi Shaqaqi and Abd al-Aziz Awda, the group’s founders, were Egyptian students and members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist social movement started in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. The two believed that the Brotherhood was not really dedicated to the Palestinian cause at some point in the late 1970s. Inspired by the Iranian revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Shaqaqi and Awda founded a wing group whose only goal was to violently destroy the state of Israel. Following President Anwar Sadat’s murder in 1981, the Egyptian government banished PIJ, which had broken away from the Muslim Brotherhood, to Gaza.

Formation and Early Activities

Typically, the PIJ prioritises attacking Israel over the prominent social, welfare, and political roles that other Islamic extremist groups in the region, such as Hamas, Fatah, or even the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, play. The PIJ operates as a decentralised, compartmentalised organisation. It is believed that their first successful operation took place in Gaza, where in August 1987, just months before the start of the first Palestinian intifada, an Israeli military police captain was killed. A few months before the First Intifada began in 1987, an Israeli military police captain was slain by the Islamic Jihad while they were in Gaza. They were banished to Lebanon that same year, when the Islamic Jihad established close ties with Hezbollah and even obtained armaments training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Shaqaqi founded the group’s official headquarters in Damascus, Syria, two years later, and it remains there to this day.

Background and Objectives

The Islamic Jihad, in contrast to Hamas, has no plans to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, run for political office, or perform any kind of volunteer work in Gaza. The opposing views of both factions against Israel is the one thing that unites them. In the Palestinian enclave, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have frequently coordinated violent activities. Ironically, though, Hamas has occasionally advised the Islamic Jihad not to attack Israel. The Islamic Jihad typically operates on its own. Mostly concentrated on military conflicts, there have been occasions when Islamic Jihad has assumed a leading role during conflicts with Israel, while Hamas has stayed in the background.

One tactic used by the Islamic Jihad is suicide attacks aimed against Israeli military and civilian targets.

  • 1987: Killing Of an Israeli military police commander in Gaza
  • 1994: Car bomb attack killing nine and injuring 50 aboard a public bus
  • 1995: Suicide bomb attack killing 18 soldiers and one civilian in ISrael’s Netanya.
  • 1996: Suicide bomb attack at a Tel Aviv shopping mall killing 13 and injuring 75
  • 2003: Suicide bomb attack a a Haifa restaurant killing 22 and injuring 60.

The Radical Ideology of PIJ and Its Expansion Through Iranian Support

During the first ten years of the Iranian Revolution, Shi’a groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gulf Emirates were the only areas affected. Its extreme beliefs did not attract Islamic militant groups, nor did it succeed in making gains in nations where Sunnis predominate. Iran paid little attention to the Iranian Revolution, while Shaqaqi and Awda found inspiration in it. Iranian officials, including Ayatollah Khomenei, persisted in promoting Shi’ite principles without giving any thought to countries with a majority of Sunnis. Following the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s, Iran made the crucial decision to export its fundamentalism to Palestine, along with Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, and others. Furthermore, Iran began to exert direct control over the Islamic Jihad after Israel drove the group into Lebanon. The US State Department claims that, like it purportly does for Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran provides funding for the Islamic Jihad. The US also holds the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria accountable for giving the organisation in Damascus a place to hide out.

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