Two Grad rockets were fired on the southern city of Eilat Wednesday morning. One landed in a residential neighborhood and the other in an open area in the outskirts of the city. No injuries were reported.
Police sappers arrived on the scene to dislodge the rocket remains and described damage to nearby structures as light.
The IDF said the rockets were fired by Islamist terrorists from the nearby Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian security officials initialy denied that any rockets had been fired from Egyptian territory, but later the army began scanning the region to identify possible sources.
A Salafist organization called the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem took responsibility for the fire, which it claimed was a retaliation for Israeli attacks on Palestinian protesters, but did not reveal where it launched the rockets from.
A senior Egyptian military intelligence official in Sinai said the army was investigating the incident. He said investigators were looking into the possibility of strikes launched from southern Sinai, around the popular tourist area of Taba along the Red Sea and nearby mountainous areas.
Arabic media said two explosions were also heard in the Jordanian city of Aqaba several kilometers away, but Jordanian officials denied the reports.
An Iron Dome missile defense battery has been stationed near Eilat for the last two weeks in light of intelligence assessments warning of just such an attack. The system was not utilized Wednesday.
The city’s airport was temporarily shut down because of the attack. A commercial flight that was on its way to the city from Ben Gurion Airport was forced to turn back.
Eillat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy said all the city’s children were safe in the schools. “We hope this difficult episode is over,” he said.
Tourism officials in the city said hotel occupants were rushed into safe rooms when the warning sirens sounded. So far no visit cancellations have been registered.
Shortly after the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in London to attend the funeral of UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, held a security consultation with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom said, “Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day and this morning we received a painful reminder of the reality in which we exist. The shooting highlights our need to protect ourselves and not put our fate in the hands of others.”
Danny Lahav of Eilat’s Chamber of Commerce told Channel 2 TV that he heard the sound of a “faint explosion” in the morning, followed by two louder explosions. Residents in the popular tourist destination remained calm, he said, adding that he hopes the attack won’t dissuade tourists from coming.
Israel Radio said that some of the residents stood at attention upon hearing the air raid sirens, mistakenly thinking it was a ceremonial siren, like the ones heard across Israel on Monday and Tuesday marking Memorial Day.
In December 2012, the army inaugurated a new brigade tasked with protecting the Red Sea resort town and its environs. The creation of the Eilat Regional Brigade, under the aegis of the 80th Edom Division, came as Israel’s border region with Egypt turned increasingly volatile.
Terror attacks originating in the Sinai have become increasingly common as Muslim extremists have taken advantage of the power vacuum left after the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Home to some 50,000 people, Eilat hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and is among the country’s top tourist destinations.