Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the the terror cell Fatah, claimed responsibility for launching a single Grad rocket into southern Israel Tuesday morning after being incited to take action during a rally held by Hamas on Sunday. The rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip and landed outside of the city of Ashkelon causing damage but no injuries. The rocket launch breaks a 3 month long cease fire agreement between Gaza and Israel which was put into effect on November 21st following 8 straight days of warfare between the two neighboring enemies last fall.
The group claimed responsibility in an emailed statement which noted that the attack was “an initial natural response to the assassination of prisoner Arafat Jaradat,” a 30-year-old Palestinian who died in an Israeli jail on Saturday and one of an estimated 4,500 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli prisons. The statement also said that Palestinians “should resist their enemy with all available means.”
During a rally on Sunday Hamas officials expressed frustration with its rival Fatah faction in the West Bank for not doing more to support those prisoners. Hamas’s minister of prisoner affairs, Attallah Abu Al-Sebah, urged Fatah “to set the hand of resistance free to deter the occupation and stop its crimes against the prisoners,” and called for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers “instead of pursuing playful negotiations that brought nothing to the Palestinian cause.”
Gal Berger, a reporter for Israel Radio, took notice of the past 3 months of relative calm since the Nov. 21 cease-fire signed by Israel and Hamas as the “most impressive exhibition of the complete control Hamas has over other militant groups like Al Aqsa and Islamic Jihad. There has not been one rocket fired from Gaza since the operation[ended], and the recalcitrant organizations were there all the time,” he said. “Now it is proven that the organizations can’t fire unless Hamas lets them.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on Tuesday’s rocket attack but is known to typically hold Hamas, the radical Islamic terror group with strong ties to The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory. Hamas has held control of the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Regarding the rocket fire, Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “Quiet will be met with quiet; missiles will be met with a response. I believe both sides have a deep interest in lowering the flames.”
Hamas “lawmaker” Mushir al-Masri told reporters during an interview that Al Aqsa’s statement accepting responsibility was a “fabrication” and that Hamas “did not find that any of the working and known resistance groups have fired any projectile,” and further elaborated that Israel was “fully responsible for the consequences of the wave of the Palestinian public fury.” It’s Masri’s contention that Israel has repeatedly broken the cease-fire on several occasions by targeting Gaza citizens and even fishermen at sea.
In the wake of the rocket attack Israel has closed the commercial crossing Kerem Shalom, which is a pipeline of incoming goods into Gaza, as well as the Erez border crossing except for “exceptional” cases of medical and humanitarian interests.
Just 24 hours prior to Tuesday’s rocket attack, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell had on Monday called on both sides to “exercise maximum restraint,” and urged both Palestinian and Israeli leaders to come to a resolve in regards to the death of the prisoner Jaradat to avoid further tensions:
“All parties should seriously consider the consequences of their actions, particularly at this very difficult moment. We urge both Palestinians and Israelis not only to refrain from provocative actions that could destabilize conditions on the ground but to consider positive steps to re-establish trust and de-escalate the current tensions.”