The two Gaza rockets that almost brought Israel and Hamas to war late Thursday were fired by accident, Israel’s Channel 13 news reported Friday, when low-level Hamas operatives “messed with” a Gaza beach rocket launcher that was set up to fire toward Tel Aviv in the event of future conflict.
The report said the farcical chain of events that almost led to war was “like something out of Monty Python,” referring to the legendary British comedy group.
The report said news of rocket sirens blaring in Tel Aviv broke as Yihya Sinwar and other Hamas leaders were meeting with an Egyptian delegation trying to mediate eased Israeli economic restrictions on Gaza.
“You’re meeting with us at the same time as you’re firing on Tel Aviv?” the Egyptians reportedly asked Sinwar in fury.
He told them he knew nothing about the matter, went to check, and established what had happened, the report said.
The Egyptians then called Israeli defense chiefs and relayed what they had been told. Israel told the Egyptian delegation to leave Gaza — the delegates crossed into Israel at the Erez crossing — and then began its retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets.
Had the rocket fire been deliberate, the Israeli response would have been five times heavier, the TV report said. The rocket fire was the first at Tel Aviv since 2014.
The Egyptians reportedly told Hamas that if it responded heavily to the Israeli strikes, there would be a major escalation of conflict. Hamas did fire several more rockets across the border early Friday.
The TV report said Hamas has arrested one or more operatives over the “accidental” fire.
It also said that Hamas had proved that it fully controls the weekly Gaza border protests by acting to cancel Friday’s gatherings to ensure relative calm prevailed.
The report noted that Palestinian Authority sources in Ramallah doubt the Hamas account of accidental fire. Israeli army sources, however, have indicated they also consider the rocket launches to have been accidental.
In response to the two rockets fired at Tel Aviv, which did not hit residential areas and caused no direct injury, Israeli war planes hit over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday-Friday. Israel holds Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Strip, responsible for any attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.
The growing assumption among Israeli army officials is that Thursday’s rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv by mistake, a defense official had said earlier Friday.
A Hamas official on Thursday told The Times of Israel that the terror group “has no interest in an escalation” with Israel. The official said he had “no idea” who fired rockets toward Tel Aviv.
The Hamas-run interior ministry called the rocket fire “outside the national consensus” and said it would exact measures against those behind it.
Initial reports had indicated that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group was responsible for the rocket fire. Hebrew-language media reported that Fajr missiles were launched, which PIJ has in its arsenal.
However, that terror group also denied that it was behind the fire. PIJ spokesman Daoud Shehab called the reports “baseless lies and claims.”