Palestinian Islamic Jihad

(PIJ, Harakat Al-Jihad Al-Islami Al-Filastini)
   A militant Palestinian group that is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, Canada, and the European Union. It is committed to the creation of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine and the destruction of Israel through attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets on either side of the Green Line.
   PIJ was formed in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s by Fathi Shikaki as a branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Shikaki led the organization for two decades but was killed in Malta in October 1995 under mysterious circumstances; some analysts suggest that he might have been the victim of a power struggle with another Palestinian group, while Shikaki's followers accuse Israel of having killed him and often attempt to launch major terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on the anniversary of his death. Since Shikaki's death, PIJ has been led by fellow founder Sheikh Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, who is based in Damascus, Syria.
   Based in Damascus and sponsored by Iran, PIJ is smaller than Hamas but considered even more extreme in its commitment to an absolutist ideology and ruthless in its methods. Many of the most spectacular suicide bombing attacks against Israel in the first two years of the Al-Aksa intifada in 2001 and 2002 were launched from PIJ strongholds in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Jenin. The PIJ terror infrastructure in the West Bank was severely damaged in Operation Defensive Shield (2002), and many of its key activists were captured or killed by Israeli forces. However, its base of operations in the Gaza Strip was reinforced, reportedly with increased support from Iran (through its proxy, Hezbollah).
   PIJ refused to participate in the intra-Palestinian temporary calm (tahadiya) brokered by Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mah-moud Abbas in February 2005. In the period prior to and immediately after the January 2006 Palestinian legislative election, as Hamas sought to establish international credibility by appearing to distance itself from anti-Israel violence, it was PIJ that picked up much of the slack, both in terms of firing literally hundreds of rockets into Israel from southern Gaza and attempting to infiltrate suicide bombers into Israel. In 2006 and at the beginning of 2007, PIJ infrastructure in the Jenin region in the West Bank suffered major damage in raids by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Nevertheless, PIJ operatives were able to carry out 2 suicide bombings at the same fast food kiosk at the old Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, killing 11 bystanders. The organization also carried out a suicide bombing attack directed against IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip, and the IDF narrowly foiled several other attempted PIJ suicide attacks in the West Bank and in Gaza.
   Overall, however, there was a reduction in the number of successful PIJ attacks in 2006 relative to 2005, when the organization was responsible for five major suicide bombing attacks, four of which were mass-casualty attacks against civilian targets in Netanya and Hadera. The decrease in 2006 was attributed to the IDF's intensive counterterrorist activities in the West Bank and the construction of the security barrier, which makes it difficult for the terrorist organizations to infiltrate suicide bombers. More than 1,000 PIJ operatives were detained in IDF counterterrorism sweeps in 2006. Of the detainees, 96 were designated as potential suicide bombers. Some of the PIJ's senior leaders were killed during counterterrorism actions. Though weakened, PIJ continued in its efforts to infiltrate suicide terrorists.
   With the assistance of Iran and Syria, PIJ sought to introduce more sophisticated weaponry into the Gaza Strip, including an improved rocket with a reported range of 14.3 miles, thereby threatening a greater segment of Israeli civilian population in the Negev Desert and southern Israel. A total of 536 missiles were launched at Israel from Gaza between 1 January 2007 and 14 June 2007 (when Hamas completed its military vanquishing of Fatah forces in Gaza). There were an additional 240 missiles fired between 14 June 2007 and 16 October 2007. Responsibility for scores of these missile firings was accepted by PlJ's al-Quds Brigades.
   There was a clashing of PIJ and Hamas forces in Gaza in an apparent power struggle in October 2007 that left at least 1 PIJ activist dead and 12 others wounded. Israel considered such incidents to be an internal Palestinian affair.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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