By Mohamed Majid and Ali Abo Rezeg
GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Ziad al-Nakhala has been chosen to lead the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, replacing Ramadhan Shalah, the group announced Friday.
"Islamic Jihad has elected Ziyad al-Nakhala as its secretary-general," group spokesman Dawoud Shihab said at a press conference on Friday.
Born in 1953 in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, al-Nakhala earned his bachelor’s degree from Gaza’s Teachers Institute.
He was arrested by Israel for the first time in 1971 and sentenced to life behind bars for his resistance activities with the Arab Liberation Front.
After spending 14 years in an Israeli prison, he was released in a 1985 prisoner swap.
Under the deal, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command released three captured Israeli soldiers in exchange for 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners.
After his release from prison, Islamic Jihad founder Fathi al-Shikaki commissioned al-Nakhala to set up the group’s first military wing.
Al-Nakhala played a role in precipitating the first Intifada (Palestinian popular uprising) in 1987, representing the movement inside the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
He later assumed responsibility for the movement in the Gaza Strip during the incarceration in Israel of then group leader Fathi Shikaki.
In 1988, al-Nakhala was arrested — for the second time — for his role in the ongoing Intifada.
Later the same year, Israel deported him to southern Lebanon, where he was later appointed as the group’s representative in Beirut.
After Shikaki’s assassination in 1995, the group’s Shura Council elected Ramadan Shalah as movement secretary-general, while al-Nakhala was made his deputy.
In 2014, the U.S. added al-Nakhala’s name to its list of “terrorists”, offering a $5-million reward for information leading to his capture.
During Israel’s devastating 2014 military onslaught on the Gaza Strip, Israel completely destroyed al-Nakhala's family home, killing his sister-in-law and her son.