Hamas, Islamic Jihad warn Israel after Gaza strikes

But Hamas official claims to Israeli paper major groups not behind launches; hikers find bomb hidden inside book in riverbed near Gaza, possibly flown over border by balloon

Palestinian fighters from the military wings of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups are seen in Gaza City during the holy month of Ramadan, November 2, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
Palestinian fighters from the military wings of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups are seen in Gaza City during the holy month of Ramadan, November 2, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations on Saturday warned Israel following airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire at southern Israeli communities.

Hamas spokesman called the airstrikes a “dangerous escalation” and said the “Zionist enemy bears responsibility for its consequences and ramifications.”

Meanwhile an unnamed senior Hamas figure told Haaretz the rocket launches were carried out without Hamas’s approval and were not the work of one of the major Palestinian factions.

On Saturday afternoon Israelis hiking in a riverbed near the Strip discovered an explosive device hidden inside a book. Police sappers were called to the scene and destroyed the bomb in a controlled detonation. It was thought it may have been sent over the border tied to a helium balloon.

The Hamas-run health ministry said a Palestinian was killed and two were wounded in the Israeli strikes across Gaza Friday night; it did not say if he was affiliated with a terror group.

The strikes came after the army said 10 rockets were fired Friday night into Israel, one of which struck a home in the southern city of Sderot.

“The Israeli occupation bombardment and targeting of resistance sites and our people in Gaza is a continuation of a series of Zionist crimes and acts of aggression,” Barhoum said in a statement.

“We affirm the blood of our people is dear and no one will allow the enemy to violate it or to turn Gaza into an arena to export internal crises,” he said.

Palestinian children stand around a crater caused by an Israeli airstrike launched in response to rocket fire, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 2, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Islamic Jihad linked the Israeli strikes to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political and legal woes.

“The enemy’s prime minister is seeking to cover up his failure and corruption with an aggressive escalation against the Gaza Strip,” the Iran-backed group said in a statement.

“We hold the occupation responsible for this and affirm that what happened in terms of aggression is an extension of the tragedy that our people have experienced since Britain and the forces of Western colonization made a statement and gave support to the Zionist Jews to occupy Palestine and expel and persecute its people,” it added.

Islamic Jihad was referring to the Balfour Declaration supporting Jewish statehood in the Land of Israel, which was issued November 2, 1917.

“We reaffirm the continuation of the legitimate struggle against the criminal occupation and we stress the firmness of the Palestinian people in its unity in confronting this aggression and all the conspiracies that are seeking to liquidate its cause,” the terror group said.

Hebrew media reported the belief in the security establishment was that Islamic Jihad was behind the rockets.

Quoting Palestinian sources, Channel 13 news reported that Hamas distanced itself from the rocket fire and told Egyptian mediators it was probing who was responsible.

People stand by the wall of a home in the southern city of Sderot damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, November 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The network said Egypt, which has brokered a number of ceasefires between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups over the past year, directly contacted Islamic Jihad leaders to clarify if they were connected to the rocket barrages.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the rocket fire, but Israel routinely holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.

The IDF said the strikes targeted “a wide range” of Hamas targets, including a naval base, a military compound and a weapons manufacturing plant.

After daybreak, curious onlookers gathered around a large crater scooped out of the sandy soil by the force of one of the blasts.

A Hamas source said it had fired at the Israeli aircraft carrying out the raids and the IDF confirmed fresh “incoming fire.”

Israeli warplanes bomb Gaza terror targets in footage released by the Israel Defense Forces, November 2, 2019. (Screenshot/IDF spokesperson’s unit)

The rockets fired from Gaza set off warning sirens in Sderot and other Israeli communities in the south as many families were eating Friday night Shabbat dinner.

The IDF said 7 rockets were fired in the initial barrage, all of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.

About an hour later another three rockets were fired into Israel and the Iron Dome intercepted one. One of the rockets hit the home, causing serious damage but no injuries.

The last rocket apparently fell in an open area.

There have been repeated bouts of violence between Hamas and Israel over the past year as the Islamists have sought to improve on the terms of a UN- and Egyptian-brokered truce first hammered out in November last year.

In return for Hamas silencing the rockets, Israel agreed to a package of measures to ease the crippling blockade it has imposed on Gaza for more than a decade. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used to attack the Jewish state.

Palestinians receive their financial aid as part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, at a post office in Gaza City on May 19, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The measure included allowing in millions of dollars in aid from Hamas ally Qatar to pay for fuel for the territory’s sole power station and cash for salaries and grants to tens of thousands of needy families.

The truce has also seen Israel expand the distance it allows Gaza fishermen out into the Mediterranean — although it reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.

The concessions authorized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been criticized by his opponents, including by his challenger for the premiership, centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.

MK Yair Lapid, a member of Gantz’s Blue and White party, and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman on Saturday blamed Netanyahu for the latest rocket fire.

The repeated flareups over the past year have amid the backdrop of the “March of Return” demonstrations on the Gaza border.

Adam Rasgon and AFP contributed to this report.

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