The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers said Thursday that they would launch an investigation into rocket fire at Israel the previous day, in an apparent bid to quell fears of a new war.
At the same time, the terror group’s military wing released a video warning Israeli leaders against making a “mistake.”
Israeli children in communities near the border returned to schools that had been closed on Wednesday, after the predawn rocket fire from Gaza badly damaged a family home but caused no injuries in the southern city of Beersheba. A second rocket fell into the sea in the Tel Aviv area.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with fellow terror group Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire.
But Israel rejected their denial, saying they were the only groups armed with rockets of a range sufficient to reach Beersheba — a distance of 40 kilometers (25 miles) — and the sea off Tel Aviv — 70 kilometers (45 miles).
Israel in any case holds Hamas, as Gaza’s de facto ruler, responsible for all fire from the territory regardless of who launches it.
“There are security service investigations in Gaza to uncover who is behind the rocket fire and there will be harsh measures against those [found guilty],” senior Hamas member Bassem Naim told AFP.
He said the rocket fire “aimed to sabotage Egyptian efforts” to broker a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, which have fought three wars since 2008.
Meanwhile, a video published Thursday by Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, showed masked fighters preparing rockets for launch, with the Hebrew caption: “You’d better read us correctly, a mistake won’t do any good.”
Hamas’s military wing also called on Palestinians in Gaza to join violent demonstrations on the border.
Near-daily demonstrations along the border since March 30 against Israel’s 11-year blockade of the enclave have included frequent violent clashes with the army. Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas and other terror groups.
Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.
Wednesday’s rocket fire triggered retaliatory Israeli airstrikes that killed one terrorist and raised fears of a new escalation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a meeting of the security cabinet lasting several hours on Wednesday evening.
No statement was released afterwards but Hebrew media reported that ministers held back from launching a full-scale military operation, instead agreeing to gradually intensify the response to violence emanating from the Strip.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from loyalists of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a near civil war in 2007 and the split has made peace negotiations with Israel harder.
Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker an agreement that would see Israel relax its blockade of Gaza in exchange for a prolonged period of calm from Hamas.
Abbas’s Fatah movement opposes any such deal, saying it amounts to a recognition of Hamas control in Gaza.
Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel had been expected in Gaza on Thursday for his first visit since taking up the post in January.
Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have official relations with Israel and plays a key role in indirect negotiations between the Jewish state and Hamas.
The visit had been expected on Wednesday, but Hamas member Naim said the minister was forced to postpone it due to timetabling clashes.
Media outlets in Gaza affiliated with Hamas published photos of the terror group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh meeting Thursday with an Egyptian delegation that did not include Kamel.
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Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said those who fired the rockets wanted to prevent the visit and “stop reconciliation and a truce.”
Fringe terror groups opposed to Hamas have previously fired rockets.
Suspicion could also fall on factions within Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed to a truce deal.
“But I don’t expect any war or escalation because Hamas, Israel and Egypt are not interested in escalation,” Abu Saada said.
Another theory was that the rockets were set off by lightning.