A Gaza Strip-based Salafi group affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility Friday for a rocket launched at Israeli territory on Thursday evening.
A pamphlet published by the group stated that the attack came in response to “crimes committed by the Jews against members of Sheikh Amer al-Hadid Beit al Maqdis,” the Hebrew-language website NRG reported. The pamphlet also noted the shooting of a Palestinian youth in the Jenin refugee camp on Thursday and Israel’s treatment of members of the fringe group in Israeli jails.
The Jenin incident referred to in the pamphlet occurred Wednesday overnight when Border Police forces entered the refugee camp and identified a youth holding an explosive device and preparing to throw it at them. One of the policemen shot the youth and wounded him. Residents of the camp say the youth died of his injuries, an account disputed by the Border Police forces who say he dropped the explosive device after he was wounded by the shot and it detonated on the ground near him, killing him.
The rocket attack Thursday evening followed several incidents where one or two projectiles were fired at Israel over the past weeks.
On Sunday night, Israeli jets struck targets in Gaza in retaliation for a rocket fired earlier Sunday evening. Last Saturday night, at least one rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area near Ashkelon, where residents reported hearing at least one explosion.
The Israeli Air Force did not retaliate for the rocket fired on Thursday night. Initially the IDF said the rocket fell in an open area in southern Israel where sirens had gone off. Later the military said that the projectile fell short and exploded inside the Gaza Strip. There were no reports of injuries.
Israel’s former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman said in a Times of Israel interview this week that Israel had lost its deterrence in Gaza, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacked the will to take on Hamas, and that Israel has entered a “silent” agreement with Hamas under which it is being allowed to rearm and improve its military capabilities.
Military analysts say the rockets fired by the Salafi group were intended to hurt Hamas by drawing Israel to respond. The terror group controlling the Gaza Strip has recently come under criticism from smaller groups identified with the Islamic State and other radical Sunni organizations. In a competition of extremists, the smaller groups, whose members are often disillusioned former Hamas men, accuse Hamas of being too lax in its enforcement of Sharia law.
Hamas has cracked down on Salafi groups, jailing many of their leaders. Last month, one of the more extremist groups gave Hamas a 72-hour ultimatum to release its jailed leader and when Hamas refused to comply, launched rockets at Israel.
While the IDF believes Hamas is not interested in another round of violence, the defense establishment has repeatedly said it holds Hamas solely responsible for any violence coming out of the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is de facto in control.
Apart from strikes against what the IDF calls “terror infrastructure,” the army sporadically closes the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into the Strip as a punitive measure.
“The defense minister has instructed that the two crossings be closed. A decision to reopen the crossings will be made based on a situation assessment and in accordance with security considerations,” the army said after Sunday night’s rocket attack. The crossings were reopened a day and a half later.
Both sides are still reeling from a long summer war last year in which complete neighborhoods in Gaza were leveled and thousands of rockets were fired at Israel.
Israel is trying to maintain a delicate balance of deterrence, where the military leaves no attack unanswered while at the same time being careful not to escalate the violence to full-fledged war.
Most retaliatory attacks damage infrastructure but cause no injuries. “We’re talking about individual rockets exploding in open areas. The IDF responds with precision to every strike, but a few isolated rockets won’t spur on another major operation in Gaza,” Sami Turgeman, head of IDF’s Southern Command, said Sunday.
“The IDF understands that Hamas wants quiet and is making an effort to prevent the shooting, but the State of Israel still sees Hamas as responsible for what happens in Gaza,” he added.
In the wake of attacks over the last few weeks, the army also deployed Iron Dome missile defense systems in several locations in the south of the country.
The political and defense echelons are also under pressure from Israeli residents of the area, who were most affected by Operation Protective Edge last summer.
The mayor of Sderot, Alon Davidi, said his constituents were tired of the fighting and were just looking to spend the upcoming summer in peace. “We demand that the steady drip of rockets fire will not become a permanent feature,” Davidi said earlier this week. His city is the largest town near the Gaza border fence.
“Summer and the summer holidays are on our doorstep, and the memory of Operation Protective Edge is still fresh, so more than anyone, we want answers and solutions so that our kids will [enjoy] the summer without rockets and without war,” he said.
— AP contributed to this report.