JERUSALEM (EJP)--- Around 57 rockets have been fired into Southern Israel from the Gaza Strip since Monday night, after a terrorist cell crossed the border from Egypt to Israel on Sunday morning, detonating an explosive device resulting in the death of Israeli-Arab.
In the worst outbreak of violence in several weeks, nine Israelis were wounded, when a rocket hit an apartment building in the Western Negev, all apparently as a result of flying shrapnel.
Haifa father-of-four Saeed Fashafshe was killed when a four-person terrorist cell penetrated the fence along the border between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, planting an explosive device which was then set off by passing Israeli vehicles. The terrorists then opened fire on the Jeeps using weapons including a rocket-fuelled grenade, after which a gunfight between arriving Golani Brigade soldiers and the terrorists ensued, killing two of them.
As a safety precaution, the Israeli army moved tanks up along the border to protect against any additional border attacks, which although in direct violation of the peace treaty with Egypt, which forbids the deployment of Israeli tanks in the area, was considered necessary whilst troops attempted to assess whether any terrorists remained in Israeli territory. Once all terrorists were accounted for, the tanks were later removed.
The IDF confirmed on Monday that it has no intelligence as to who was responsible for the attacks, the first such successful infiltration of Israel from Sinai since last August attacks that killed eight Israelis.
Israel claimed last year’s attacks were commissioned by Hamas offshoot the Popular Resistance Committee, which operates out of Gaza, but carried out by a Bedouin from Sinai. IDF officials have suggested it’s possible this latest attack was carried out by Palestinians from Gaza who passed through Sinai to then enter Israel.
According to a statement released on Tuesday, an Islamic group calling itself the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem claimed responsibility for Monday’s attacks, releasing a video showing two terrorists who were killed as they read their last wills.
The organisation declared it had carried out the attacks to avenge Osama Bin Laden’s death, as well to honour Palestinian prisoners and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
The 9-minute video was distributed in Gaza and showed two men identified as Egyptian and Saudi perpetrators of the attack preparing to carry out a double suicide mission to avenge the “honor and blood of Muslims defiled by the Jews and the Crusaders”.
IDF spokesman Lt-Col. Avital Leibovitch revealed there are between 400-(00 smuggling tunnels running underneath the Gaza-Egypt frontier, through which terrorists and arms can easily be smuggled in out of Sinai.
According to Arab Affairs analyst Ehud Yaari, the Sinai Peninsula is at this point in time “conceptually and economically annexed to the Gaza Strip”, who suggests that by redeploying Egyptian troops along the peninsula it could prevent terrorists from launching major attacks on Israeli army targets travelling across the region.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket activity overnight on Monday, which was still ongoing on Wednesday morning, when a Grad rocket was launched near Be’er Sheva with 10 more landing in the north-western Negev region.
According to the widely outlawed terrorist group in a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, its military wing had issued rocket fire aimed at Israel. In previous eruptions of violence against Israel this year, rival organisation Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility while Hamas worked to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel. This latest weapons assault brings the total number of rockets and missiles fired at Israel from Gaza so far this year to 453, compared to 653 for the whole of last year.
Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel. More than one million Israelis are currently under threat of rocket attacks and many spent the night in bomb shelters and safe rooms.The city of Ashkelon, with a population of 113,000 and several smaller towns were targets of Tuesday’s attacks. In response, the Israel Defense Forces targeted terrorist squads in Gaza, killing two terrorists in a rocket-launching squad.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier this year called for the next Egyptian administration to seize control of borders in order to preserve its accord with Israel:
“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control of Sinai. We are waiting for the results of the election. Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility of all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in Sinai, swiftly putting an end to these attacks,” he said in a statement.