Escalation in south continues after Grad rocket, two Qassams fired from Gaza on Thursday night. Mortars hit open area; no injuries or damage reported. Army of Islam members go into hiding. PRC: Rocket fire a response to ‘Israel’s crimes’

Seven mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at the western Negev and Gaza vicinity communities on Friday afternoon. Three of the mortars hit open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, and the other four – fired an hour later – landed in open areas in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The Popular Resistance Committee’s Salah al-Din Brigades claimed responsibility for the mortar fire, saying it was a response to recent assassinations in Gaza.

A Grad rocket fired from Gaza on Thursday night exploded in an open area in the Merhavim Regional Council, near the southern town of Ofakim. Three cows were injured and a cattle-shed sustained damage.

This was the first Grad rocket to be fired from the Gaza Strip since July, and the first to hit the Ofakim area since Operation Cast Lead.

On Thursday evening, a Qassam rocket exploded in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. At around 4:30 am, Palestinians fired another Qassam, this time at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. A blast was heard in the area, although the rocket landed near the Palestinian side of the border fence. There were no reports of injuries or damage in both incidents.

The escalation in the south follows the assassination of two senior members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Army of Islam group by the Israel Defense Forces earlier this month.

Abu Mujahed, a PRC spokesman in Gaza, said that “the firing by Palestinian organizations from the Gaza Strip is part of our right to respond to the Israeli crimes and the recent assassinations.”

According to Abu Mujahed, “The rocket fire is a response to the crimes against our people. it is clear to us that today Army of Islam members are being hurt, and tomorrow it will be us and then another organization.”

A source affiliated with Army of Islam noted that the group members had gone into hiding, fearing for their safety. The source told the London-based Arabic-language al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper that the activists were taking strict precautions, were not seen in public, and avoided using any communication devices for fear of being followed.

‘Israel’s claims groundless’

Abu Mujahed claimed that since the firing of rockets on Eilat and Aqaba three months ago, “We see the Israelis’ attempts to prepare the ground and create an infrastructure of groundless excuses. But as far as we are concerned, these excuses will be used by Israel in order to launch an offensive against the Strip, which we believe is drawing closer.”

The PRC spokesman added that Israeli media reports and evaluations of defense officials “prove that the Israelis are seeking to prepare the ground for an offensive, and they must bear the consequences of such an offensive. We won’t sit idle and we have the means to respond and deal with the expected attack. Israel began the assassinations and Israel must endure the response,” he clarified.

The Hamas organization pointed a finger at Israel as well, accusing the Jewish state of attempting to ignite the situation on the Gaza border using unfounded claims about Hamas’ activity in Sinai.

“It’s unclear if this is an attempt to justify the failure of the negotiations or an attempt to sacrifice the Strip for the sake of the talks. In any event, this is a clear Israeli attempt to drag the Palestinians in the Strip to respond to the Israeli crimes,” a group source said.


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