For masked gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp, Israel’s unannounced attack on Islamic Jihad in Gaza on Friday cannot come as a surprise after months of clashes have steadily raised the profile. from the Iranian-backed militant group.
Firing into the air during a rally late last month to commemorate three youths killed 40 days earlier, they were reprimanded by a voice from the crowd shouting: “Save your ammunition for the dark days ahead!”
The weekend bombardment by Israeli planes of Gaza and the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza were the biggest cross-border clash in more than a year.
Israel focused its operation against Islamic Jihad, which it describes as Iran’s proxy, while carefully avoiding a direct confrontation with the larger and more powerful Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip.
But the conflict came after regular clashes in cities in the occupied West Bank and was triggered by the arrest in the city of Jenin of Bassam Al-Saadi, a senior leader of the movement.
Created in 1981 by the doctor Fathi Shiqaqi and other radicals, Islamic Jihad took root in the Palestinian camps surrounding Gaza and the nearby West Bank. Over the years, it has carried out a series of suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis, as well as firing rockets.
For the group, listed as a terrorist organization by the West, the bombardment of Gaza came at a high cost, with the deaths of two top commanders, while Hamas refused to do more than offer limited verbal support.
Islamic Jihad, which has tried to create a common front with other militant groups in West Bank refugee camps, has rejected any compromise with Israel and refused to run in Palestinian Authority elections.
But the fighting allowed him to strengthen his claim to be at the forefront of the fight against Israel, eight years after US-brokered peace talks failed.
Gunmen from the Jenin rally stood next to the black flag of Islamic Jihad, the green flag of Hamas and the yellow flag of Fatah, in a display intended to show the unity of the main factions in Jenin.
However, with the Palestinian Authority perceived by many in the camps as out of place and compromised by its relationship with Israel, the movement has offered young recruits a radical vision of resistance, unconstrained by the need to govern. .
This sets it apart even from Hamas, Israel’s arch-enemy, whose responsibility for the daily lives of 2.3 million people in Gaza requires it to carefully weigh the risks of another war.