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Islamic Jihad said on alert, evacuates bases after Gaza rockets land off Tel Aviv

Gaza-based terror group said bracing for Israeli response to two rockets fired at Tel Aviv coast, as IDF chief holds assessment on courses of action

Members of Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza City, on December 4, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Members of Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza City, on December 4, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group reportedly raised its level of alert on Saturday afternoon and evacuated bases in the Strip, anticipating a response from Israel after two rockets fired from Gaza landed off the coast of Tel Aviv earlier in the day.

The Beirut-based al-Mayadeen TV, citing unnamed sources, said the group’s armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, evacuated all of its positions in Gaza and was preparing for the coming hours.

Palestinian media outlets — some affiliated with the Hamas terror group — also reported on Islamic Jihad raising its alert level.

On Saturday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said two rockets were fired from Gaza toward central Israel. Video circulating on social media showed an explosion in the sea off the coast of Jaffa, while the second reportedly impacted off the coast of Palmachim, south of the city of Rishon Lezion.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi held a situational assessment with security officials following the rocket fire, during which several courses of action were discussed, according to Hebrew language media reports.

The Walla news site reported that Israel’s political echelon was expected to reach a decision by Saturday night if the military was to respond to the launches.

Armed factions in Gaza blamed Saturday’s rocket fire on “weather conditions,” and said it was not an intentional action against Israel. Previously, terror groups have said lightning strikes were responsible for setting off rockets, though Israel has sometimes doubted such claims.

Al-Mayadeen’s sources added that the military wing of Islamic Jihad received instructions from the group’s leadership to be ready to respond in the event of the death of a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner.

Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian from the small town of Dura, near Hebron, has been on a hunger strike in protest of his detention by Israel for 137 days, according to his lawyers.

Palestinians participate in a solidarity rally with hunger-striking Palestinian administrative detainee Hisham Abu Hawash in his hometown Dura, near Hebron, on December 7, 2021. (WAFA)

“He is being subjected to a process of assassination, of elimination,” Islamic Jihad said in a public statement on Saturday afternoon. “We will deal with the matter according to our commitment to respond to any criminal assassination by the enemy.”

Palestinian factions in Gaza have regularly threatened renewed violence in response to the conditions of hunger-striking prisoners. Most of these threats have not materialized; in most cases, Israeli authorities either agree not to renew the detainees’ detention or the prisoners end their fast.

On Saturday, there were no sirens warning of incoming rockets, in a sign that no projectiles were headed for populated areas. The Iron Dome missile defense system was not activated for the same reason.

Channel 12 news reported that Egypt immediately started mediation efforts between Israel and the Gaza terror groups to try to prevent an escalation of violence.

The rocket fire came after an Israeli civilian was shot on the Gaza border on Wednesday, prompting retaliatory strikes by the IDF.

However, farming activities continued as normal near the Gaza border on Thursday morning, with the IDF lifting a warning it imposed in the wake of the gunfire from the Strip, indicating that the military was not expecting an escalation of violence after the shooting of the Israeli and the IDF’s strikes, which reportedly injured three Gazans.

In the immediate wake of the shooting, the military had ordered farmers to stay away from land near the Gaza border.

The lightly-injured Israeli man was a worker for a civilian firm hired by the Defense Ministry for maintenance of the recently completed security barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

Israeli soldiers near the site of where a civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)

After the shooting, the IDF said tanks targeted several Hamas outposts in northern Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said three Palestinians were wounded.

The incidents came after a relatively quiet period and amid intense efforts to reach a stable, long-term ceasefire following a major escalation of violence last May which saw thousands of projectiles fired at Israel and the IDF responding with strikes.

However, reports in recent days have suggested efforts have stalled for a potential deal that would see Hamas release two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers it is believed to be holding, likely in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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