A Hamas spokesman claimed Saturday that Israeli strikes on targets linked to the terror group following rocket fire from the Gaza Strip were meant to distract from recent violence in the West Bank.
The military said it struck two underground sites belonging to Hamas overnight after a rocket was fired from Gaza at Israel.
The rocket, which set off sirens in a number of southern communities, was intercepted by Iron Dome defense system.
“The Israeli attack is a message of escalation and aggression that is meant to distract from the acts of heroism in the West Bank, which have confused the calculations of the enemy and deepened its internal crises,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was quoted saying by Hebrew media.
His comments came a day after two Israeli teenagers were injured in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank and over a week after a yeshiva student was stabbed to death by terrorists outside a nearby settlement.
One of the teenagers remained in serious condition Saturday after undergoing surgery.
The assailant in Friday’s attack was killed by an off duty police officer while the Palestinians behind the stabbing were arrested last week by security forces.
The army said Nasir Asafra, who along with his cousin Qassem Asafra is suspected of murdering Dvir Sorek, is a Hamas member.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terror group, praised the stabbing.
Hamas also hailed Friday’s car-ramming, linking it to recent unrest in Jerusalem.
“Our nation’s rising rage and the ramming and stabbing incidents are a response to the repeated stormings of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the occupation’s ongoing crimes,” it said in a statement.
In recent months, the Shin Bet security service has warned that Hamas, which rules Gaza, has put considerable effort and resources into recruiting operatives to carry out attacks in the West Bank and Israel.
“A number of Hamas military cells have been uncovered in the Judea and Samaria area in recent weeks who were operating under the instruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and who were planning to carry out terror attacks against Israeli and Palestinian Authority targets,” the Shin Bet said Tuesday.
“The operatives in the West Bank were instructed to form cells in order to carry out kidnappings, shootings and stabbings, purchase weaponry, and find and recruit additional operatives for terrorist activities,” the security service said.
In addition to the recent attacks in the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen in Gaza have twice opened fire on Israeli troops this month, with three soldiers injured in one of the incidents.
The army also foiled what it described as a “large-scale terror attack” last week, as soldiers killed four Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza, armed with AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, hunting knives and bolt cutters.
On Tuesday, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar vowed the terror group would prevail over the IDF should Israel send troops into the coastal enclave in any future conflict.
“We will beat that defeated army,” he said, adding that if there is another conflict with Israel, “we will shower their cities with hundreds of missiles in a single barrage.”
In the past 12 years, Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have fought three major conflicts with Israel.
But following recent short-lived flareups with Israel, Hamas has agreed to a number of informal ceasefires with the Jewish state and its officials have stated that they prefer to avoid another full-fledged war with it.