Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other Palestinian terror groups, including Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, launched dozens of rockets and mortars from Gaza towards southern Israel yesterday. The barrage of rockets and mortars was the most significant in a single day since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
In a statement posted on its website, the al Quds Brigades, PIJ’s military wing, said that “Operation Breaking the Silence” comes in response to “Zionist aggression” in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. The Iran-backed terror group specifically noted Tuesday’s airstrike in Gaza that killed three PIJ fighters who had fired mortar rounds at Israeli forces.
PIJ fighters fired 130 rockets and mortars, the group claimed. Israeli officials said only 60 hit Israel, however. At least three of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
It is likely, though still unclear, that a number of the rockets and mortars fired by PIJ and the other groups landed in Gaza. Both PIJ and the IDF released video of some of yesterday’s attacks from Gaza.
According to Israel’s Shin Bet, in all of 2013 only 74 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel.
In response to yesterday’s rocket attacks, the Israeli Air Force struck at least “29 terror sites in the Gaza Strip” last night. “The IDF will do everything in its power to fight Gaza terrorism and protect the people of Israel,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Officials in the Gaza Strip said the targeted sites belonged to PIJ and Hamas, the Associated Press reported.
Hamas, which did not claim responsibility for any of yesterday’s attacks, said Palestinians have a right to defend themselves in the face of Israeli aggression. In a brief statement, the State Department called yesterday’s attacks from Gaza “reprehensible” and noted that “Israel, like any nation, has a right to defend itself.”
Israeli officials have expressed concern in recent weeks about escalating violence emanating from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. “The situation is stable, but we are seeing a creeping escalation,” one military official told the Jerusalem Post in late February.
While the recent upsurge in rocket attacks has been carried out by groups other than Hamas, Israeli military officials consistently remark that Hamas is not doing enough to stem the rocket attacks. Hamas “can and must do more” to stop rocket fire from Gaza, one official told Reuters in mid-January. In early February, Hamas pulled back some of its forces responsible for preventing rocket attacks. The forces were eventually redeployed, but sporadic rocket and mortar fire continued.
The firing of rockets and mortars toward Israel from Gaza increased in January and February. In response to the rocket fire, the IAF struck a number of terror sites in Gaza, as well as terrorists themselves. On Jan. 19, the IAF targeted Ahmad Saad, an operative in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who was allegedly behind the firing of five rockets toward Ashkelon on Jan. 16, among other attacks. On Jan. 22, the IAF targeted and killed Ahmed Za’anin, another Palestinian terror operative in the Gaza Strip.
More recently, on Feb. 9, the IAF targeted Abdallah Kharti, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees who was said to have worked with the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis). On March 3, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed a member of PIJ as well as a fighter in the Mujahideen Brigades.