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Islamic Jihad continues attacks on Israel

JERUSALEM—Islamic Jihad is one of the Middle East's smaller militant groups, but it's been one of the more tenacious and troublesome forces affecting events in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Unlike the larger Islamist group Hamas, which declared a temporary halt to suicide bombings last year, Islamic Jihad has pressed on, claiming responsibility for most of the nine suicide bombings that have struck Israel in the last 15 months. Thirty-six people have died in those attacks.

Islamic Jihad has been behind some of Israel's deadliest suicide bombings, including the October 2003 bombing of Maxim's restaurant in Haifa, which killed 21 people. The attacker was one of the first Palestinian women to become a suicide bomber.

A year later, Israel bombed what it said was an Islamic Jihad training base in Syria, where one of the group's leaders, Ramadan Shallah, lives.

Islamic Jihad was founded by three Palestinians studying in Egypt who were expelled to Gaza after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. In Gaza, they found fertile soil, and Islamic Jihad grew into a potent force during the first Palestinian uprising.

Like Hamas, Islamic Jihad has been a prime target for Israeli assassinations. The group's founder, Fathi Shakaki, was assassinated in Malta in 1995 in a hit that Islamic Jihad accused Israel of launching.

In 2002, after a Hamas suicide bombing during Passover killed 31 people, Israel launched a massive military operation that led to the death of another top Islamic Jihad leader and the arrest of two others.

While Hamas has successfully moved into the political arena, Islamic Jihad has refused to follow suit.

That's creating a dangerous situation for the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. Israel is warning that it will hold Hamas responsible for suicide bombings such as Monday's attack.

"Hamas is behind every terror attack when they are part of the Palestinian Authority," said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir after Monday's suicide bombing. "It may be Islamic Jihad ... but the hands are the hands of Hamas."

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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