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IDF chief: Terrorists are out to ruin Passover

Gadi Eisenkot warns of jihadists’ threat from Egypt, hours after unprecedented border closure and IS-claimed rocket attack on Negev

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the rocket fired into southern Israel from Egypt earlier Monday was part of a deliberate effort by terrorist groups to ruin the Passover holiday.

“Terrorists are making efforts to disrupt our holiday,” he told Army Radio. “This only reminds us of the commitment we have to ensure security for Israel.”

“We have a peace agreement with the Egyptian army, which is very committed to security,” he added. “There are terror organizations that are making efforts to harm us, in this case along the Sinai border, where we have a common challenge.”

Eisenkot’s remarks came in response to a rocket fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that hit a greenhouse in the Negev earlier on Monday.

The Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai claimed responsibility.

The rocket struck a tomato greenhouse in the border town of Yuval.

The remains of a rocket fired from Sinai that struck an Israeli greenhouse in the village of Yuval in the Eshkol region. (Israel Police)
The remains of a rocket fired from Sinai that struck an Israeli greenhouse in the village of Yuval in the Eshkol region. (Israel Police)

The attack came hours after Israel, in a highly unusual move, shut down the Taba Crossing into the Sinai Peninsula, citing concrete information regarding an imminent terror attack in the area.

The crossing is expected to reopen next Tuesday, April 18, with the end of Passover, but that decision will only be made following a security assessment, the ministry said in a statement.

Israelis currently in the Sinai Peninsula will still be able to return from Egypt and are, in fact, encouraged to do so immediately, the ministry said.

Thousands of Israelis had been expected to cross into the Sinai Peninsula for the Passover holiday.

The decision to forbid that move came a day after two lethal attacks on Egyptian churches by the terrorist group’s so-called Sinai Province.

The closure was ordered by Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, after consultation with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other security officials, according to the ministry’s statement.

This was one of the few times the Taba Crossing was shut down since its opening in 1982, following the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. The crossing was shut down in 2014, following a terror attack on the Egyptian side of the border. It was also closed in 2011 when Israel also assessed there was a high risk of terror attacks.

The Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
The Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

On Sunday, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau released a statement encouraging all Israelis to forgo travel to the restive Sinai Peninsula, where the Islamic State has been waging a bloody war with Egyptian security forces and carrying out attacks against civilians.

Two church bombings, one in the city of Tanta and the other in Alexandria, killed at least 43 people earlier on Sunday, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

“The fatal terrorist attacks which took place today reflect once again the terror capability of the Islamic State,” the anti-terror bureau said in a statement on Sunday. “In light of the gravity of the threat, the anti-terror bureau advises Israelis currently in the Sinai to leave immediately and return to Israel.”

In February, the Sinai Province launched four Grad rockets at the southern city of Eilat. Three were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense battery, while the fourth struck an open field outside the city.

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