Islamic Jihad threatens rockets at Argentina-Uruguay soccer

Israel said to believe Hamas leadership did not okay rocket fire at Beersheba

Security officials reportedly think terror operatives acted independently; Pompeo: Iran’s use of Islamic Jihad to strike our ally shows its desire to destabilize region

Lights are turned on at a Beersheba nightclub Friday night, November 15, 2019, as rocket sirens go off in the city. Two rockets fired at the southern city were intercepted by Iron Dome (video screenshot)
Lights are turned on at a Beersheba nightclub Friday night, November 15, 2019, as rocket sirens go off in the city. Two rockets fired at the southern city were intercepted by Iron Dome (video screenshot)

Israel believes the rockets launched toward Beersheba overnight Friday were fired by Hamas operatives who were acting independently, without the authorization of the terror organization’s leaders, according to reports in Hebrew media Saturday afternoon.

A Channel 13 news report said the assessment that Hamas’s leadership had not been involved in the rockets — fired in the early hours of Saturday and both intercepted by Iron Dome — was based both on intelligence gathering and on messages being conveyed from the Strip.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Saturday evening that the conflagration in the south was instigated by Iran and proved its desire to destabilize the region.

“Iran uses its terrorist proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad to strike our great ally Israel,” he said.

“Iran does not want peace in the region. It does not want the Palestinian people to prosper. It wants more conflict. Until we address Iran’s threats, the cycle of violence will continue.”

The overnight rockets set off warning sirens in Beersheba shortly before 2 a.m., in the first attack on the city in the latest round of fighting. Both projectiles were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Footage from the city showed some people at a night club take cover as alarms blared, while others appeared unfazed by the sirens. There were some 3,000 people in the Forum nightclub at the time.

The Magen David Adom emergency and rescue service said it treated five people for anxiety and four who were injured while running to bomb shelters following the attack.

A volley of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip intercepted by the Iron Dome system near the Israeli town of Beersheba, November 15, 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenzl/Flash90)
File: A volley of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip is intercepted by the Iron Dome system near the Israeli town of Beersheba (Uri Lenzl/Flash90)

The military responded with strikes on Hamas terror targets in the enclave. During this week’s fighting, Israel had traded blows with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, while the Gaza-ruling Hamas sat on the sidelines.

Also on Saturday, the army said it fired warning shots toward several Gazans who approached the border fence in the center of the territory. The group fell back into the Strip and there did not appear to be any casualties.

Islamic Jihad on Saturday published a photo appearing to threaten rocket attacks at Israel during Monday’s highly anticipated Argentina-Uruguay soccer match, featuring superstars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, which will be held in Tel Aviv.

The photo issued by the group showed Jerusalem’s Teddy stadium (which is not the site of the match) with rockets superimposed over it, and a stopwatch displaying the hour of Monday’s game at 9 p.m.

An image issued by Islamic Jihad appears to threaten rocket attacks on Israel during Monday’s soccer match between Argentina and Uruguay (social media)

The friendly match had been in doubt in the past week due to intense fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad earlier this week that saw hundreds of rockets fired into Israel, including at Tel Aviv. But on Friday both teams confirmed they would be coming.

Friday night’s rocket attack came after the leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups spoke and agreed to increase cooperation, Palestinian media reported.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said Saturday that the decision to carry out military operations remains in the hands of the Gaza terror groups and that “Israel bears the consequences and results of its ongoing aggression,” Hebrew-language media reported.

On Friday senior Hamas members were twice barred from a mourning tent for the Islamic Jihad terror chief whose killing by Israel set off the fighting. The mourners were apparently angry at Hamas after the Gaza-ruling terror group did not take part in the Tuesday-Wednesday flare-up between Israel and Islamic Jihad.

But on Saturday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders met to smooth relations. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met with Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh, and was photographed together with the father of Baha Abu al-Ata, the Islamic Jihad operative killed by Israel early Tuesday.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (second from right), Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Basch (second from left), and the father of Islamic Jihad terrorist Baha Abu al-Ata (right), pictured on November 16, 2019. (Screen grab)

On Friday, Hamas acknowledged that one of its operatives had been killed during the fighting this week.

The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said Ahmed Abdel al-A’al was one its members. A statement from the group did not clarify whether he was taking part in fighting when he died.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attend the funeral of a fellow fighter in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The outbreak of violence in the early hours of Saturday morning came as Israelis had started recovering from two days of intense fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups.

From the predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a battle in which over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the IDF responded with dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities and on the terror cells as they were firing and preparing to launch rockets.

The escalation began when an IDF targeted missile strike killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a commander in the Islamic Jihad terror group who Israel said was the “prime instigator” of terrorism from Gaza over the past year.

Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed in the two days of conflict. Israel said 25 of the fatalities were terrorists; human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.

Fifty-eight Israelis were lightly and moderately injured or treated for anxiety.

Most of the rockets from Gaza either landed in open fields or were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. Some struck homes, businesses and streets, causing injuries and significant property damage. Dozens of people were also hurt as they fell running to bomb shelters.

In response to the attacks, the Israeli military conducted dozens of strikes on Islamic Jihad bases and weapons facilities, as well as rocket-launching teams throughout the Strip. The Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, refrained from partaking in the violence.

Israel and Islamic Jihad agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday morning, although there were four rocket attacks throughout the day and the IDF attacked Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza overnight in response.

An Israeli soldier walks past military vehicles in a gathering point near the Israel-Gaza Border, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Israel and the militant Islamic Jihad group in Gaza reached a cease-fire on Thursday to end the heaviest Gaza fighting in months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On Friday schools remained closed in the Gaza periphery, but at noon local councils announced a return to normal life, with school studies set to resume Sunday.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, warned Gaza-area residents Thursday that the rocket fire might continue even with the ceasefire agreement in place.

The general said the IDF would be working to thwart these attacks. “If we identity launch efforts, we will strike the cells,” Halevi said.

Other Israeli leaders have warned they would not hesitate to return to battle.

Islamic Jihad’s military wing also threatened Israel that it was ready to continue fighting.

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