Last updated: 19 January, 2012

Islamic Jihad cell in West Bank broken

The military has broken up an Islamic Jihad cell of 10 militants suspected of planning attacks on Israel, the country’s domestic intelligence service Shin Bet said in a statement on Thursday.

“During a joint Shin Bet and army operation, ten members of Islamic Jihad have been arrested over the past two months in Jenin,” in the northern West Bank, the statement said.

The militant cell came under the command of the radical group’s headquarters in Syria and the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, it added.

The members of the cell were accused of planning attacks both on Israeli civilians and on the military, including kidnap attempts, and of making explosives.

Islamic Jihad believes in armed struggle against Israel and is strongest in Gaza, where a spokesman for its armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, says it has “around 8,000 men.”

The Iran-inspired group created in 1980 was the first Palestinian Islamist organisation to take up arms against Israel.

As with Hamas, its political leadership is in Damascus where Ramadan Shallah, originally from the Gaza Strip, is based.

Sources from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said on Tuesday that the two main Palestinian Islamist movements were holding merger talks.

During a meeting with senior Islamic Jihad officials, Gaza’s Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya called for “opening a serious dialogue to achieve the merger of the two movements,” his office said in a statement.

Islamic Jihad confirmed that talks to merge the factions were under way.

The two factions have long held opposing views on government, with Jihad boycotting the last Palestinian elections in 2006 that were won by Hamas.

The mooted merger initiative comes as Hamas and its Fatah rival which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority struggle to implement a reconciliation deal signed in April 2011 that has made little progress on the ground.