Amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian factions in the coastal enclave have warned that failure to honor unofficial agreements regarding the territory will lead to increased arson attacks in the border region and rockets on Tel Aviv that would “ruin Eurovision,” the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper reported Wednesday.
The unnamed sources told the daily that an escalation was likely due to “Israel’s procrastination in carrying out the understandings of calm vis-a-vis the Palestinian factions.”
Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar recently brokered ceasefire understandings between Israel and Hamas, which Hebrew media reports have said include an end to violence emanating from Gaza in exchange for the Jewish state easing some of its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave. Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group, seeks to destroy Israel.
Al Akhbar quoted the sources as warning that “the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip will experience further arson, and in the near future the pressure from the Gaza Strip will increase so much so as to ruin the Eurovision Song Contest,” set to take place in Israel in two weeks.
They further threatened that there could be more “mistaken” rocket fire on Tel Aviv, the city hosting the international singing competition, a derisive reference to previous rockets on the city which were claimed to have been fired in error.
On Tuesday, The Israeli military deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries throughout the country following a rocket attack from Gaza the previous night and ahead of what is expected to be a sensitive next few weeks.
Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces accused the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad of firing the rocket late Monday night, which landed several kilometers off the coast.
The military expects the coming weeks to be particularly tense, as they will see not only the Eurovision competition but also the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, and the first anniversary of the opening of the contentious US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Following Monday’s rocket launch, Israel scaled back the permitted Gaza fishing zone from 15 nautical miles to six until further notice. The fishing zone had previously been extended to 15 miles — a level that the coastal enclave has not seen in over a decade — as one of the first concessions by Jerusalem under an unofficial ceasefire agreement with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
In an apparent response to Israel’s decision, Palestinians in Gaza launched several balloon-borne incendiary devices into southern Israel on Tuesday, sparking at least one fire. In recent weeks, such arson attacks have tapered off under the ceasefire brokered by Egypt last month.
The blaze occurred outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. It was quickly extinguished by a team of volunteers, the fire department said.
On Tuesday morning, the IDF said the Islamic Jihad terror group intentionally fired the rocket from the northern Gaza Strip toward coastal Israel the day before in an effort to derail ongoing efforts to maintain the ceasefire.
The Islamic Jihad is considered the second-most powerful terror group in the Strip, after the coastal enclave’s de facto rulers, Hamas, despite having a slightly larger arsenal of rockets and mortar shells, mostly locally manufactured varieties based on Iranian designs.
The IDF specifically named Baha Abu al-Ata, an Islamic Jihad commander responsible for the group’s activities in northern Gaza, as having given the order to fire the rocket. The military said the rocket was fired from the al-Attra neighborhood of Beit Lahiya.
Identifying al-Ata by name could be seen as a tacit threat by the military. Al-Ata has been targeted by the IDF in the past, both in the 2014 Gaza war and in the smaller 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.