Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader buried in Syria

FILE - This Feb. 21, 2017 file photo, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group Ramadan Abdullah Shallah attends a conference titled "international conference in support of Palestinian Intifada" in Tehran, Iran. Shallah was laid to rest Sunday in the Syrian capital Damascus, a day after he died following a long illness. He was 62. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The former head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement was laid to rest Sunday in the Syrian capital Damascus, a day after he died following a long illness. He was 62.

Ramadan Shallah was on the U.S. “most wanted list” of terrorist suspects with a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Shallah, who had been in a coma for more than three years after heart surgery. The group didn’t say where he died, but he was believed to have been in Lebanon.

Shallah was buried following the afternoon prayers in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus. His funeral was attended by Syria-based Palestinian officials.

Shallah led the Iranian-backed group for over 20 years, after its founder, Fathi Shikaki, was shot dead in Malta in a 1995 attack widely attributed to Israel. In 2018, the group named Shallah’s deputy, Ziad al-Nakhalah, as a new leader.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad has offices in Syria and Lebanon, but most of its activities are focused in the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip.

“We pledge to continue the route of resistance until we liberate Palestine with the allies in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah,” al-Nakhalah told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV during the funeral.

Last year, the movement took part in several rounds of heavy fighting with Israel. But in recent months it has remained committed to an unofficial truce brokered by regional mediators between Israel and Hamas, the larger Islamic group ruling Gaza.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad previously has taken part in numerous suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks that killed dozens of Israelis.