Two rockets fired into southern Israel on Friday afternoon were launched from the Sinai peninsula in a deliberate attempt by Islamic State-affiliated terror groups there to draw Israel into the their fight with Egypt, Israeli security officials said.
Later in the evening the group indeed claimed responsibility for the rocket attack. “Three Grad rockets were fired at Jewish positions in occupied Palestine,” it said in a statement on Twitter.
The two rockets exploded in open ground inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip, causing little damage and no casualties. Israeli residents in the area said they heard a third rocket land, but this was not immediately confirmed.
Israel, which routinely responds to rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza with counterstrikes at Hamas targets, did not immediately respond to Friday’s rockets. Security officials quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 news said the launches apparently constituted an attempt by the IS-affiliated group Wilayat Sinai in the Sinai to draw Israel into the fighting there.
The IS-linked group launched a major assault on the Egyptian army, in turn prompting Egyptian counterattacks, in which well over 100 people have been killed in the last three days. The clashes are the area’s bloodiest fighting in decades.
A group of Islamic State supporters in Gaza, calling itself the Omar Hadid Brigades, also claimed responsibility for Friday’s rocket fire earlier. They did not name the location of the launch. The claim was not considered credible by Israel, the TV news report said.
The launch set off “Color Red” warning sirens in the Eshkol Regional Council, which borders the southern Gaza Strip as well as the Egyptian peninsula.
Jihadists in Sinai have fired rockets into Israel in the past. Still, Egyptian officials late Friday denied that rockets had been fired at Israel from the peninsula.
The Israeli military is increasingly wary of attacks from Sinai. On Thursday the Israel Defense Forces ordered the closure of Highway 12, which runs along the border with Egypt, until further notice. It also upped its presence along the border, as security officials cautioned that Wilayat Sinai could attempt to overrun the Gaza Strip.
There has also recently been an increase in sporadic attacks by terror elements in the Strip. Recent weeks have seen several rocket launches from Gaza, the first significant attacks since the conclusion of the war between Israel and armed groups in the coastal territory last summer.
Hamas on Friday denied Israeli claims that it has been helping Wilayat Sinai. But the Israeli security officials on Friday reiterated the claim, and said Hamas had given weaponry to the terror group ahead of this week’s fighting and has been treating its wounded in Gaza’s hospitals.
AP contributed to this report.