The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Tuesday used its Iron Dome anti-missile battery to intercept at least one rocket fired towards Israel’s southernmost city Eilat.
Palestinian sources said that an Al Qaeda-linked group operating in the Sinai Peninsula – Ansar Bait al-Maqdis – took responsibility for the attack.
Warning sirens were sounded, and residents said they heard two explosions overnight Monday. The Times of Israel reports that three people were treated for shock.
In a statement posted on its blog, the IDF reported that there were no casualties or damages and that “The [Iron Dome] system was deployed in the city only a few weeks ago, following an increased threat of rocket fire in the region.”
The area has seen increased security activity in recent days, including a shut-down of the Eilat airport on Thursday due to a fear of an imminent terrorist attack.
The Palestinian Maan News Agency on Friday quoted an Egyptian security source who said that the decision to close the airport was made after Israel was tipped off by Egyptian intelligence that Sinai-based terrorists were plotting to launch a shoulder-fired rocket at the site.
Then on Friday, as the Associated Press reported, the Al Qaeda-linked group operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula said four of its fighters were killed as they were preparing to launch a rocket across the border into Israel. The drone strike, being attributed to Israel, killed the Islamist militants and destroyed a rocket launcher.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took responsibility for the Grad rocket launch on Eilat Tuesday, calling it retaliation for the alleged Israeli drone strike on Friday.
The Times of Israel quoted a report in the Palestinian Maan News Agency saying that a “high-level Egyptian military official” reported that hardline Salafi groups now have missiles in their arsenal with a range of about 43 miles and with that range aim to target the Eilat airport.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis in its statement said that Israeli cities will no longer enjoy safety, tourism or economic prosperity, and that “the Jews will pay the price for the blood of the jihadists killed,” reports the Times of Israel.
“The fighters managed to bomb occupied ‘Um Rashrash’ [Eilat in Arabic], with Grad missiles. The attack sowed fear among the criminal Jews, who were forced into underground bomb shelters,” the group said according to the Jerusalem Post.
“Our heroes became martyrs during their jihadi duties against the Jews in a rocket attack on occupied lands,” the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis posted on a jihadist website, addressing the drone strike.
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi said he didn’t hear any reports of tourists returning home. With school out, August is a big tourism month for Eilat, which is home to numerous kid-friendly attractions.
“Like other Israeli cities, we have become accustomed to the reality of rockets. We expect the IDF to continue protecting our citizens and find those responsible for the attack,” said Halevi.
The IDF Home Front Command on Tuesday gave an all clear, allowing tourists to continue to visit the Red Sea vacation hub that sits on the Egyptian border.
TheBlaze reported on Monday about accusations that Hamas, using smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, is working with local Islamist militants based in the Sinai to target Egyptian security forces. As of this writing, there have been no suggestions that Hamas was involved in the Tuesday rocket launching, though its fighters have ample experience targeting southern Israeli communities with rockets launched from Gaza.
Major General Ahmad Wasfi of the Egyptian Army told an Arabic-language newspaper over the weekend that 600 Hamas operatives have surreptitiously entered the peninsula from Gaza since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohammed Morsi.
“The peninsula has long been a security headache for Egypt and its neighbors. Large and mostly uninhabited, it also borders the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal linking Asia to Europe,” Reuters reports.