Israeli security forces have reportedly gone on alert for possible reprisals in the wake of the assassination of the leader of the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad movement.
Islamic Jihad officials vowed to take revenge against Israeli targets around the world after Dr. Fathi Shakaki was assassinated Thursday in Malta.
Israel declined to comment on whether it was behind the shooting.
Islamic Jihad said in a statement issued in the Gaza Strip that “this horrendous crime will make every Zionist, wherever they are on the face of the earth, a target to our amazing blasts and our bodies exploding in anger” – an apparent allusion to renewed suicide bombings of Israeli targets.
The Palestinian Authority called on the Islamic Jihad to refrain from retaliation, saying that it could ultimately hurt the self-rule government.
But Islamic Jihad officials rejected the Palestinian appeal. In its statement calling for revenge, it vowed to “set the ground on fire underneath the feet of the criminal Zionists.”
The threats of renewed violence by Islamic Jihad come days after the spiritual leader of the militant fundamentalist Hamas movement called on his followers to abandon terror.
In an interview from his jail cell last Friday, Sheik Ahmed Yassin asked his followers to stop attacks on Israel and run in the upcoming Palestinian elections.
Yassin, a wheelchair-bound Muslim cleric serving a life sentence in Israel for ordering the deaths of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israelis, founded Hamas in December 1987.
The Islamic Jihad statement was the first confirmation that the man shot outside a hotel in Malta was indeed Shakaki.
Authorities in Malta initially reported last Friday that a man identified as Libyan businessman Ibrahim Shawesh had been shot five times in the head by two men on a motorcycle.
On Sunday, Maltese officials identified the victim as Shakaki after they asked Israeli police to provide fingerprints of the Islamic Jihad leader.
The Maltese authorities described the assassination of Shakaki as a “professional job.”
Shakaki, 43, had reportedly stopped over in Malta on his way back to Syria from Libya, where he had met with Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to discuss Tripoli’s recent expulsion of Palestinians from Libyan soil.
According to some reports, Islamic Jihad and Gadhafi had conspired together on the expulsions, meant to undermine the Palestinian Authority’s peace moves with Israel.
While declining to comment on possible Israeli involvement in the shooting, Israeli leaders said they were not sorry the Islamic Jihad leader was dead.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told reporters that Shakaki had led “a murderous terrorist group that committed murderous attacks against citizens.”
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he did not think the killing would be detrimental to the peace process.
“I think his business was murdering, so if there will be one murderer less, I don’t see how it’s going to affect the peace process,” he said.
Peres added that he was not concerned about Islamic Jihad threats of terrorist attacks.
“The threats existed all the time,” he said. “There’s nothing new about that.”
Shakaki, a medical doctor who was born in Gaza, established the Islamic Jihad in the early 1980s.
After being expelled by Israel to Lebanon in 1988, Shakaki set up his base of operations in Syria.
The Islamic Jihad, which violently opposes the Israel-Palestinian peace accords, has carried out a number of terrorist attacks against Israel.
This year the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Jan. 22 suicide bombing near Netanya, in which 21 people were killed and 60 other wounded.
The group also claimed responsibility for the April 9 bombing of a bus near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in Gaza. Seven Israeli soldiers, along with American student Alisa Flatow, were killed in the explosion.
Islamic Jihad officials, meanwhile, announced the appointment of Ramadan Abdullah as Shakaki’s successor.
A spokesman for the group in Damascus gave no details about the new leader, or where he would be based.
Shakaki’s death touched off disturbances in the West Bank and Gaza.
A commercial strike was called in the West Bank towns of Hebron and Ramallah.
University students demonstrated in Gaza, where leaflets announcing Shakaki’s death and vowing revenge were distributed.