The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said Sunday that comments recently made by a senior IDF official promising to target its leadership in the event of any “revenge attacks” launched against Israel are tantamount to “a declaration of war.”
"We will not weaken the the leadership of our people and of our land. The threat by the enemy to harm the leadership is on the border of a declaration of war and we will deal with them,” the organization said in a statement.
The statement came in response to a video posted on the internet Saturday evening by Maj. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, who said that Israel is “aware of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's plot that is being formed against Israel,” before warning that it is “playing with fire” and that any attack would be met with “force” and “determination” as the IDF targets the group’s leadership.
Speaking in Arabic, Mordechai said both Islamic Jihad and Hamas would be held responsible for any revenge attacks launched on Israel for the IDF’s recent explosion of a terror tunnel that has penetrated into its territory. During the explosion, several Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed.
Shortly after Israel blew up the tunnel, Hamas warned it constituted a “grave escalation.”
Among those killed were senior commanders of terror groups while another 11 were wounded in the explosions.
“Israel exploded a terror tunnel two weeks ago inside its territory under the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” Mordechai said.
“It is playing with fire at the expense of the residents of the Gaza Strip, at the expense of the Palestinian reconciliation agreements and the entire region.
"It should be clear: Any response by Islamic Jihad, whatever it may be, will be responded to by Israel with power and determination, not only against Islamic Jihad but also against Hamas. We advise the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus to be careful and get things under control,” he continued.
“Leaders of Islamic Jihad in Damascus—Ramadan Shalah Ziad Nakhaleh—get your hands around this quickly because you are the ones who will be held responsible.”
According to the latest Islamic Jihad statement, Mordechai’s words revealed "Israel’s real intentions." It further indicated that violent reprisals for the tunnel explosion should be expected.
“These threats show the real intentions of the Zionists. We have a right to respond to any aggression and, therefore, have a right to respond to criminal aggressions against the resistance tunnels that caused the death of 12 fighters from the military wing of Hamas and the (Islamic) Jihad,” the statement read before issuing a stern warning.
“Our message to Israel: Your hands, drenched in the blood of our children, will not stop killing until they are cut off or expelled from our land and country.
“The enemy’s terror and threats do not frighten us and will not deter our leadership from the path of Jihad—the principle of our defense and resistance.”
The “enemy forces,” it concluded, “are violating the ceasefire that was brokered by Egypt in 2014."
Earlier on Sunday, a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, Khaled al-Batash, said his terror organization will have no other choice to “punish” Israel for killing its members.
“Israel has killed 12 Palestinians in Gaza and another one in the West (Bank) over the last two weeks … When they kill men of the resistance, and especially from Islamic Jihad, we have no other choice but to punish the occupier, and continue to strengthen the buildup of forces from a conflict,” al-Batash said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the possible attack in his opening Cabinet remarks Sunday, reiterating that Hamas will bear ultimate responsibility for any attack launched from the Gaza Strip.
“There are those who still amuse themselves these days by trying to renew attacks against Israel. We will take a very firm stance against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any area. I mean any source: rogue factions, organizations—anyone. In any event, we see Hamas responsible to any attack launched or organized from the Gaza Strip against us," Netanyahu said.
Daoud Shehab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, said that his group "made a decision to respond" with "a response that Israel is not used to." He did not elaborate but said it would not be with rocket fire, hinting at possible attacks from the West Bank.
A Hamas spokesperson also said Sunday afternoon that threats the Israeli threats are indicative of "panic and confusion."
“The threats against resistance by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Yoav Mordechai reflect the state of panic and confusion the Zionist entity is in from our response to the crimes against people of the Palestinian resistance,” the spokesperson said.
“The courageous resistance will always continue to be ready to carry out its duty—to defend our nation and break the prestige of the occupation.”
AP contributed to this report.