EU, Germany condemn Islamic Jihad for rocket fire on southern Israel

European representatives in Israel blast terror group, call for restraint from both sides; UN envoy urges halt to fighting, set to brief Security Council

Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, February 24, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, February 24, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The European Union and Germany on Monday condemned Palestinian Islamic Jihad for firing rockets at Israel and called for restraint from both sides.

The statements came as the Gaza-based terror group launched a fresh wave of rockets against southern Israel, drawing Israeli reprisals.

“Following with concern the situation in the South of [Israel] after PIJ in Gaza fired more than 40 rockets,” said Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s ambassador to Israel.

“Indiscriminate firing of rockets on civilian population is totally unacceptable and must stop. Civilians to be protected on both sides,” Giaufret said.

German Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainerd similarly censured Islamic Jihad for the violence.

“We are very concerned about the latest escalation in Southern Israel and Gaza Strip. We condemn the rocket attacks by PIJ in the strongest possible terms, and call for the greatest possible restraint,” Wasum-Rainerd said. “Priority must be given to any efforts for de-escalation.”

The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace, Nickolay Mladenov, called for an end to the fighting and said he would brief the UN Security Council on Monday evening.

“I call for an IMMEDIATE stop to the firing of rockets that only risks dragging Gaza into another destructive round of hostilities with no end in sight!” Mladenov wrote on Twitter.

The statements came as Islamic Jihad terrorists pounded Israel’s south, launching over a dozen rockets on Monday afternoon and drawing reprisal airstrikes in the Strip.

The attacks forced schools to close on Monday, keeping some 55,000 students at home, and shuttered roads, train lines and tourist sites.

The uptick in violence began after an irregular clash along the Gaza border on Sunday in which Israeli troops shot dead a member Palestinian Islamic Jihad as he planted an improvised explosive device along the border, the army said. The Israeli military then retrieved his body, using a bulldozer.

The retrieval of the corpse was apparently part of Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s announced plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations for the release of two Israeli men, and the remains of two fallen Israeli soldiers, who are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Boys stand inside a kindergarten’s playground that was hit by a missile fired from Gaza in the city of Sderot, Israel, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

On Sunday evening, the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups fired some 30 rockets at Israel, approximately half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The rest landed in open fields. Some shrapnel caused light property damage, but no injuries were reported.

The IDF retaliated with airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities in both Syria and Gaza. Two members of the terror group were killed in the airstrikes outside Damascus along with four other pro-Iranian fighters, according to a Britain-based Syrian war monitor. A number of Islamic Jihad operatives were also injured by an IDF airstrike in Gaza as they prepared to launch rockets at Israel, the military said.

Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the Al-Quds Brigade, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military wing, said Monday that Israel’s strikes on Damascus “will not pass fleetingly,” adding: “The fight is not over.”

The border clashes came despite reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to arrive at a ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.

A masked Palestinian militant checks damage following overnight Israeli airstrikes on an Islamic Jihad military base in Khan Younis, Gaza, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday threatened that Israel could begin a major operation to stem the attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border, despite elections being only a week away.

The IDF has notably singled out Islamic Jihad in the latest round of fighting, not the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with which Israel hopes to negotiate a ceasefire agreement. In the past, Israel held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip, regardless of which terror group was behind it.

However, the IDF has lately begun to distinguish between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which Israel believes is responsible for the majority of the violence along the Gaza border in recent months.

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