(Reuters) - The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, which traded deadly fire with Israel at the weekend in Gaza, does not expect a subsequent truce to last long and has at least 8,000 fighters ready for war, a spokesman said.
Islamic Jihad is the second largest armed group in Gaza, after Hamas, which rules the tiny Mediterranean enclave. The two share a commitment to the destruction of Israel and both are classified as terrorist groups by most Western governments.
However, while Hamas has recently spent much of its energy on the business of government, Islamic Jihad has kept its focus firmly on the conflict, gaining in prominence and enjoying significant backing from Muslim supporters, including Iran.
"We are proud and honored to say that the Islamic Republic of Iran gives us support and help," Abu Ahmed, the spokesman for Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Jerusalem Brigades, told Reuters in a rare, long interview.
He denied widespread reports that Iran had provided his group with arms and smiled at suggestions it now receives more sophisticated weaponry from Tehran than Hamas. He also declined to comment on rumors that the Jihadists were trained by Iran.
"What I will say is that we have every right to turn to every source of power for help," said the burly, bearded Abu Ahmed, occasionally flicking a string of yellow prayer beads.