OFER PRISON, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel on Thursday indicted a senior leader of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad movement whose arrest led to a brief conflict in Gaza earlier this month and whose detention is likely to fuel tensions.
The charges against Bassam Al-Saadi, who was arrested on Aug. 1 during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, include serving in an illegal organization and incitement, according to a statement from the Israeli military.
Anticipating retaliation to Al-Saadi’s arrest, Israel launched what it called pre-emptive strikes against his group in the Gaza Strip, where it is based, leading to three days of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rockets.
He has been held in an Israeli military prison.
Al-Saadi, according to the military, is an “influential senior official” in Islamic Jihad who it said worked on “core terrorist activities” that include receiving funds from Gaza.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman, Dawood Shehab, said Israel was fabricating charges based on “misleading and unfounded accusations”.
Shehab said the group would ask Egypt and the United Nations to intervene, and issued a veiled threat that it could respond with violence if Al-Saadi was not released.
“Reaching a dead end would give us the full right to use other tracks and other options,” said Shehab.
The Israeli military prosecutor asked to keep Al-Saadi in custody for the remainder of the legal process, the army said.
Gaza is ruled by Hamas, an Islamist group much larger than Islamic Jihad, which stayed out of the cross-border fighting at the start of the month.
(Reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer, Ari Rabinovitch and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)