Islamic Jihad announced Ziyad Al-Nakhaleh was named the movement's new secretary-general on Thursday, formally replacing former head Ramadan Shalah. In April, the group said Shalah was in serious condition in a Beirut hospital after undergoing heart surgery.
Palestinian website QudsNet reported that the 60-year-old Shalah was in a coma, adding that that it was possible that Shalah was poisoned because he is a wanted terrorist in both Israel and the United States, but Islamic Jihad denied this report. A senior Islamic Jihad figure, Ahmed Almudallal, said: “There is no truth to the reports about an assassination attempt on the secretary general. He is ill from natural causes.”
According to the Islamic Jihad announcement, Shalah underwent complicated surgery at Al Rassoul al-Azam Hospital, which the Lebanese Shi’ite militia movement Hezbollah operates in Beirut. Shalah has been living for the past few years in Damascus, but was moved to Beirut because of his medical condition.
Shalah, one of the founders of Islamic Jihad, was chosen secretary general in 1995 after his predecessor, Fathi Shkaki, was assassinated, a killing that foreign sources attributed to Israel. Shalah is considered an ally of Iran and advocates a tough stance supporting the armed struggle against Israel and opposing recognition of Israel or any agreements made with it, including the Oslo Accords of 1993 that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority.
Under Shalah’s leadership, Islamic Jihad has adopted a pragmatic approach to intra-Palestinian issues, supporting the reconciliation attempts between Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which rules Gaza.