TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military said Tuesday it has sentenced a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group to 22 months in prison after his arrest helped spark three days of heavy fighting in Gaza last year.
Bassam al-Saadi’s sentence was handed down as part of a plea deal that included suspending an additional sentence and ordering al-Saadi to pay compensation, the army said in a statement. Al-Saadi he had been convicted for illegal association, incitement and impersonation.
The statement said al-Saadi, 62 at the time of his arrest, worked with other suspects to advance the group’s activities “within its student wing” by receiving funding from an Islamic Jihad operative in Gaza. He was arrested in August during a nighttime raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
Palestinians frequently agree to plea deals in Israel, where, critics say, the courts often rely on secret evidence presented by security officials.
Islamic Jihad had demanded al-Saadi’s release. The group is sponsored by Iran and has carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years targeting Israeli civilians. It operates in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Israel said the group had been planning a revenge attack from Gaza. In response to what it said was an imminent threat, Israel launched a wave of airstrikes in Gaza that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander. The militants began launching hundreds of rockets at Israel hours later.
The flare-up left 49 Palestinians dead, including the militant group’s top two commanders and 10 other fighters, before the cease-fire took effect. Gazan militants fired some 1,100 rockets, but no one on the Israeli side was killed or seriously wounded.
Al-Saadi spent a total of 15 years over several stints in Israeli jails for being an Islamic Jihad member. Israel killed two of his sons, who were also Islamic Jihad militants, in separate incidents in 2002, and destroyed his home during a fierce battle in Jenin that year.
Israeli forces have carried out regular operations into Jenin in recent months that the military says are aimed at dismantling militant networks in the wake of several deadly attacks inside Israel. The raids often ignite gunbattles with Palestinian militants.