Israeli defense officials on Monday warned that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad appeared to be planning to conduct a large-scale terror attack on the Gaza border in order to derail ongoing ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, according to two Hebrew media reports.
The unnamed officials told Palestinian affairs correspondents from the Ynet news site and Channel 12 television station that members of the Iran-backed group had been seen conducting “suspicious activities” near the security fence over the past day.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad is the second-most powerful terror group in the Gaza Strip, after the coastal enclave’s de facto rulers, Hamas, though it is believed to have a slightly larger arsenal of rockets and mortar shells, mostly locally manufactured varieties based on Iranian designs.
The group is also suspected of being responsible for a barrage of rockets fired at southern Israel in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, which struck open fields in the Eshkol region, causing neither injury nor damage.
According to Monday’s reports, the PIJ operatives along the border appeared to be preparing for some kind of an attack, though the details were unclear. The anonymous officials said it could be the firing of an anti-tank guided missile at Israeli troops; a large-scale improvised explosive device attack; or some type of cross-border assault.
In recent weeks Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect ceasefire negotiations, with Egypt and the United Nations acting as mediators.
Under the Egyptian-led plan, Israel is to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm. These are said to include easing restrictions on imports and exports, expanding fishing zones and more.
There appeared to be a breakthrough in these talks over the weekend, when Hamas maintained relative calm along the border during large Land Day protests on Saturday.
Israel, in turn, reopened its two crossings with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, having closed them last week after a rocket attack struck a home in central Israel and injured seven people, and on Monday significantly expanded the permitted fishing area around the coastal enclave.
According to the anonymous officials, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Beirut-based leadership appeared to be trying to derail these ongoing ceasefire efforts with rocket fire and its planned attack along the border.
On Sunday afternoon, a mortar shell was launched from Gaza toward Israel but it failed to clear the border and landed inside the Strip.
Over 40,000 Palestinians took part in the rallies at the Gaza border Saturday afternoon, with some rioters throwing grenades and explosives toward the security fence as well as lobbing rocks at troops and burning tires.
The enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said three 17-year-old Palestinians were killed during the protests, while at least 300 were injured. Another Palestinian was shot and killed in the early morning before the main demonstration began, as he took part in a late-night riot along the border. Most of those hurt were lightly wounded, but three were said to suffer critical injuries.
The army said soldiers responded with “riot dispersal means” as well as live fire in accordance with IDF regulations, noting that most Palestinians attending the one-year anniversary of the “March of Return” protests remained at a distance from the border.