The political leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip dismissed on Wednesday Israel’s stern warnings to the terror organization following a rocket attack on the south on Tuesday night, asserting that an escalation of violence would ultimately hurt the Jewish state more than the residents of the Palestinian enclave.
Meanwhile, Hamas arrested three members of the Islamic Jihad suspected of involvement in the attack, according to the Haaretz daily.
“The enemy’s threats do not scare the Gaza Strip and do not scare the children of Gaza,” Ismail Haniyeh stated, according to the Walla news site. “Gaza is able to build deterrence. A million people [across the border] panicked over one rocket. I believe they live under terror, rather than [the people of] Gaza.”
Haniyeh was reacting to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s earlier statements Wednesday, in which he warned Hamas to rein in any attempts by Gaza terror groups to attack Israel, or “pay a heavy price.”
Earlier, Israeli Air Force jets bombed four targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket, which hit near the town of Gan Yavne, outside Ashdod, causing neither casualties nor damage. The army said it was fired by Islamic Jihad activists due to an internal dispute in the organization.
The projectile — a Grad missile — was located shortly after sirens sounded in the Lachish region and Ashdod.
“Israel has no intention of ignoring attacks on its citizens like the one carried out last night by Islamic Jihad forces,” Ya’alon said in a statement. “We will not abide any threat on the residents of the south. If it isn’t quiet in Israel, the Gaza Strip will pay a heavy price.”
“I would not advise anyone to test us,” he cautioned, directly threatening the Hamas government of Gaza. “We see Hamas as responsible for what happens in the Gaza Strip. It would be better for Hamas to rein in all attempts to fire at Israel and provocations. Otherwise we will have no choice but to respond with even greater force.”
There were no reports of casualties from the Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The IDF said in a statement that it targeted four “terror infrastructure” sites in the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday. The targets included training camps belonging to the Islamic Jihad in Rafah, Khan Yunis and Gaza City, witnesses in the Strip said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday also addressed the rocket fire, stressing that “Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fired from Gaza.” He added that the “IDF reacted immediately and forcefully to the rocket fire,” and maintained Israel will do “whatever it takes in order to maintain the quiet achieved after Operation Protective Edge.”
A source in Gaza said the attack was the result of an internal dispute inside the Islamic Jihad terror group, which has included kidnappings of people in northern Gaza.
The source said Islamic Jihad recently appointed a new commander to oversee the northern region of the coastal enclave. The new commander was supposed to start his new position on Tuesday officially, but his predecessor opposed it, sparking clashes between the two commanders’ supporters.
The new commander’s men then kidnapped two operatives working under the former commander and, in retaliation, the predecessor’s followers decided to fire rockets at Israel.
Escalating rocket fire from Gaza at Israel’s southern communities in 2014 was among the triggers of a bloody, two-month war between Israel and the armed factions in the Strip. During the conflict, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, some of which reached Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa’s suburbs.
Tuesday’s attack marked the first time a Grad rocket, which can go farther than the smaller Kassams more commonly shot out of Gaza, had been fired at Israel since the summer war.
Israel is wary of Gaza terrorist groups rearming after war. The IDF says Hamas has been conducting test launches in recent months in order to increase its rocket-launching capabilities.
Some 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the war and tens of thousands more left homeless, according to Palestinian and UN tallies. Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, said the high civilian toll in Gaza was due to fighters there embedding their military infrastructure in residential areas.
AFP, Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.