Al-Qaeda group claims attack that starts wave of Gaza/Israel air strikes
Four Israeli border guards injured in the rocket fire as fighting flares along the border
Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk,
20 June, 2012
JERUSALEM–About a dozen rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel in the early hours of Wednesday morning, bringing the total to more than 60 following a militant attack on the Egyptian-Israeli border on Monday that sparked the current spiral of attacks and counter-attacks.
Four Israeli border guards were taken to hospital after being injured.
A two-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in an explosion in Gaza on Tuesday evening, and her brother was injured. The Israeli military denied it had launched an air strike in the area. According to the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, witnesses said the child died when militants launched a rocket nearby.
Six Palestinians have been killed in targeted air strikes carried out by the Israeli air force since Monday afternoon. At least seven targets were struck by Israeli missiles on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Hamas said its militants were responsible for firing a volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel for the first time in months. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said in a statement that its operatives had fired a dozen rockets “as a response to Israeli continued crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip”. Its target was a nearby Israeli military base, it said.
Hamas has largely adhered to a series of ceasefires since the three-week war in Gaza ended in January 2009, although it has not contained rocket fire from other militant groups, notably Islamic Jihad. Hamas was weakened by Israel’s military onslaught, known as Operation Cast Lead, and is reluctant to provoke another major confrontation with Israel.
The IDF holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire and attacks emanating from Gaza, and says it “will continue to operate against those who use terror against the State of Israel”.
Silvan Shalom, Israel’s vice prime minister, warned that it may consider a ground operation in Gaza if the situation worsens. “The more things deteriorate, the closer we come to a decision we don’t want to make,” he told Israel Radio.
“The prospect of a ground operation shouldn’t frighten us. If this situation escalates, and I hope it won’t, then all options are open. They know it. We know it. The international community knows it.”
Monday’s attack on the Israel-Egypt border, in which an Arab construction worker was killed, was claimed by a group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council of Jerusalem which says it has links to al-Qaida. It distributed a video in which two men, an Egyptian and a Saudi national, said they were embarking on a “double suicide mission”.
Two militants were shot dead by Israeli forces during the attack, and a third escaped. Israel deployed tanks along the border in a technical breach of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
Since the Egyptian revolution, Israel has been alarmed at the deterioration of security in the Sinai, the vast desert area that abuts Israel’s southern border. Both counties have permitted the other to step up their military presence close to the border.
Last summer, a group of militants killed eight Israelis in a cross-border raid, during which five Egyptian security personnel were shot dead by IDF soldiers. The incident added to tensions between the two countries following the fall of former Egyptian president and friend of Israel, Hosni Mubarak.
Israel is deeply concerned about the growing power and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The organisation has close ties to Hamas.
By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal
June 19, 2012
A jihadist organization calling itself the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s cross border attack in Israel, according to the SITE Intel Group.
The attack was launched near a security fence that Israel is constructing along its border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. One Israeli civilian was killed after the attackers detonated an improvised explosive device and then opened fire on two vehicles carrying construction workers. At least two terrorists were killed during the raid.
In videos released by the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, MSC members stand in front of al Qaeda-style flags. And, in a statement, the MSC dedicated the attack to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “We present this blessed invasion … to the soul of the lion of Islam, the reviver of jihad, and the raiser of the banner, Sheikh Mujahid Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden,” the MSC says, according to a translation by SITE.
The MSC also dedicates the attack to “the Syrian Muslim jihadi people,” to “all the mujahideen and their commanders and emirs in all the battlefields of jihad,” and to the “Salafi Jihadi oppressed lions in the land of the Gaza glory.”
The MSC repeats common jihadist talking points, saying it is waging jihad “to become a building block in the global project aiming for the return of the rightly-guided Caliphate and the institution of the pure Shariah.”
The MSC identified the two fighters who led the raid in Israel as an Egyptian named Khalid Salah Abdul Hadi Jadullah (a.k.a. Abu Salah al Masri) and a Saudi named Adi Saleh Abdullah al Fudhayli al Hadhli (a.k.a Abu Hudhayfa al Hudhali).
Al Qaeda presence in the Sinai
The Sinai has been an increasing cause of concern for Israeli officials since the onset of Egypt’s revolution. The MSC is not the first Sinai-based terrorist organization to claim ideological affinity for, if not organizational ties to, al Qaeda. Numerous jihadist groups, including others linked to al Qaeda, reportedly operate there.
In December 2011, a group named Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announced its formation and pledged to “fulfill the oath” of Osama bin Laden.
Then in January of this year, Ansar al Jihad swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
“To our beloved emir and honorable sheikh, Abu Muhammad Ayman al Zawahiri … from your soldiers in the beloved Sinai in the Land of the Quiver [Egypt], we give you allegiance for obedience in good and bad, in difficulty and ease, and altruism,” Ansar al Jihad said in a statement that was also translated by SITE. “So, throw us wherever you wish…. We will never quit or surrender until the last drop of our blood [is spilled] in the Cause of Allah and until Islam rules by the help of Allah the Almighty.”
Ansar al Jihad is the military arm of al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, which announced its existence in the summer of 2011 when it released pamphlets in the town of Al Arish in the northern Sinai. Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula has been establishing ties with Gaza-based Salafist groups and is seeking to coordinate operations, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in late December 2011. There are at least four al Qaeda-linked organizations operating in Gaza. [See LWJ report, Israel kills ‘Global Jihad affiliated-terrorists’ in Gaza airstrikes.]
It is not clear how the newly-announced MSC fits into the matrix of al Qaeda-linked organizations operating in the Sinai and Gaza. Given its first successful raid, and open allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s jihad, this is likely not the last time the group will make itself known.
[The Long War Journal is a neo-con publication of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, founded after 9/11 to addres the “threat facing America, Israel and the West”.]
Saudi, Egyptian citizen purportedly launched the attack that killed an Israeli worker, video shows; over 40 rockets fired from Gaza in past day, at least six Palestinians killed in IDF strikes on the Strip.
By Yaakov Katz, JPost
June 19, 2012
An al-Qaida-linked group calling itself “The Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land” claimed responsibility Tuesday for a cross-border attack along Israel’s southern border that killed one construction worker on Monday.
Reuters obtained a video showing a group of masked men who claimed responsibility for the attack. The masked men used Islamic slogans, pledging to liberate the Holy Land from what they termed Jewish control.
A second video showed two men, one of whom said they were about to embark on a mission to attack “the Zionist forces on the border of Egypt and occupied Palestine”, an apparent reference to Monday’s incident on the Sinai border.
The first man said he was an Egyptian named Abu Salah al-Masri. The other said he came from Saudi Arabia and gave his name as Abu Huthiyfa al-Rathali. The videos could not immediately be verified.
Meanwhile, 46 rockets and mortar shells pounded southern Israel on Tuesday, in one of the worst days of violence in months. Israel was expected to escalate its response and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held security consultations late Tuesday night to review various options
36 fell in the Negev region and 10 exploded in the Lachish area. Police bomb squads spent the day searching for rocket impact areas to recover the projectiles’ remains. No one was hurt in the attacks but residents in the Ashkelon and Sdot Negev regions were ordered to stay close to bomb shelters throughout the day.
Israel was concerned with the increase in rocket fire and particularly with Hamas’s declared involvement in the attacks, a clear break from its earlier policy not to attack Israel as was demonstrated during the last round of violence with Islamic Jihad in March.
While attacking Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip, Hamas has refrained from firing its long-range Grad-model Katyusha rockets into Israeli cities. Instead, it allowed other groups, such as Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees to fire into Israel.
In the afternoon, the Israel Air Force attacked a motorbike in the central Gaza Strip, wounding one person, who the IDF said was involved in the rocket fire into Israel.
Iron Dome batteries were deployed throughout the South but by the evening had not been activated. The IDF said that the batteries were on high alert and were prepared to defend the cities they surrounded.
Hamas claimed that it was responding to the killing of Palestinians in recent days. The IAF killed at least six Palestinians since Monday, when it launched a series of airstrikes against a sniper and rocket cell.
“The more things deteriorate, the closer we come to a decision we don’t want to make,” Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said. “The prospect of a ground operation (in the Gaza Strip) shouldn’t frighten us.”
“If this situation escalates, and I hope it won’t, then all options are open. They know it. We know it. The international community knows it,” he told Israel Radio.
Reuters contributed to this report.
By Dan Williams, Ma’an/Reuters
June 20, 2012
JERUSALEM — Israel killed a man in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, as a surge of fighting across the border of the Palestinian enclave entered a third day despite what Egypt said were its efforts to broker a truce.
The man, described as a militant belonging to one of Gaza’s fringe Islamist Salafi networks, died and another person was wounded in an airstrike on their motorcycle in southern Rafah, near Gaza’s frontier with the Egyptian Sinai, medical officials said.
Israel said the man targeted was a “Global Jihad terror operative” who was involved in a raid on Monday from adjacent Sinai territory on the Israeli border, which killed a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
Soldiers shot dead two attackers, who were later claimed by a newly formed radical Islamist movement, the “Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land”.
Palestinians fired at least 16 rockets into Israel on Wednesday, causing no casualties, the military said.
Fighters from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement have joined in the barrages after months of staying on the sidelines, a shift that holds the prospect of a wider conflict during the contested ascendancy for political Islam in Egypt.
Israeli airstrikes killed four men in northern Gaza on Monday and two teenagers were killed by Israeli shelling on Tuesday morning.
Cairo has brokered Gaza truces in the past and an Egyptian official said renewed mediation had secured agreement by Israel and Palestinian factions on Tuesday night.
A Palestinian source accused the Israelis of violating the deal. Israel neither confirmed nor denied there was such deal, and the military said in a statement it would “continue to operate with perseverance and determination against those who use terror against the State of Israel.”
Egyptian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Othman told Ma’an on Wednesday Egypt was in touch with all parties in order to restore calm.
Ma’an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
By AFP/Naharnet newsdesk
June 20, 2012
There was no let-up in rocket fire from Gaza on Wednesday, with at least 10 hitting the Jewish state despite seven Israeli air strikes overnight, police and the military said.
As the violence in and around Gaza entered its third day, Israeli police raised their level of alert in the towns and villages within rocket range, although there were no casualties in the latest strikes.
“We have raised our level of alert and reinforced patrols in areas near the Gaza Strip,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
So far, six Palestinians have been killed and five wounded since the bloodshed erupted on Monday morning, but officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said there were no casualties in the overnight air strikes.
“Overnight, IAF (Israel Air Force) aircraft targeted six terror activity sites in the Gaza Strip. Hits were confirmed,” a military statement said, later confirming a seventh strike in what it said was a response to the persistent rocket fire.
Among the sites hit were a training center used by militants from the Hamas armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and several naval police outposts, Palestinian security sources said.
The raids took place several hours after a rocket ploughed into an Israeli border police outpost in Yad Mordechai, just north of the Gaza Strip, wounding four border policemen, one of them seriously, Rosenfeld said.
In total, 45 rockets hit Israel on Tuesday, all of which were claimed by the Hamas armed wing in a rare show of force. Previously, the group had been observing a de facto truce on rocket attacks.
By Associated Press/Washington Post
June 23, 2012
JERUSALEM — The Islamic militant Hamas group threatened to escalate fighting with Israel after Israeli airstrikes on Saturday killed two gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel wounded one person and damaged a school in the country’s south.
A military spokesman said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz convened “an urgent meeting” to discuss ways of dealing with a week of persistent Palestinian attacks. Gaza militants fired over 30 rockets and mortar shells on Saturday alone, bringing the week’s rocket tally to more than 150.
The military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, gave no other details about the meeting.
The latest flare-up is the most serious in months. Over a million people in southern Israel live in range of the rockets and the Israeli military has advised the residents to make sure they can get to a bomb shelter quickly.
Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, vowed to escalate the fighting.
“If the last rounds were not enough to deliver the message … we are ready to crush the enemy and to curb its arrogance and to respond to aggression in a strong way,” the group said in a statement released Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday morning, an Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian militant as he rode his motorcycle in Gaza. Two other airstrikes wounded 17 Palestinians, including militants and civilians, and damaged several buildings used by Hamas, which rules the coastal territory.
The Israeli military said it hit “terror sites” and that it holds Hamas accountable for any attacks originating from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks continued throughout the day. A second Gaza militant was killed later in the afternoon, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said it had “targeted a terrorist in the northern Gaza Strip while he was preparing to launch rockets at Israel.”
Also, an Israeli was seriously wounded when a Gaza rocket smashed through a factory roof. Rockets from Gaza also hit a school in the Israeli border town of Sderot. The school was closed for the weekend so no one was hurt but the building was damaged. Several other Israelis were injured in Palestinian rocket attacks this past week.
The spike in violence began on Monday when two gunmen infiltrated into Israel along its border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and killed an Israeli Arab construction worker who was part of a crew building a border security fence meant to avert such attacks. Later, a little known al-Qaida-inspired group, the Mujahedeen Shura Council of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the gunmen as an Egyptian and a Saudi.
Since then, Gaza gunmen have fired barrages of rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, wounding several Israelis and damaging apartment buildings. Israel responded with airstrikes on militant targets that gave killed at least 9 Palestinians and wounded more than 20 so far.
Meanwhile, Gaza health official Ashraf Al Kedra said a boy was killed in a playground during an airstrike Saturday morning in Khan Younis. The Israeli military said they didn’t attack that area.
Military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich later called the allegation a “false rumor” and said that according to intelligence information, the boy was killed by “ordinance belonging to one of the terror groups.” Palestinian rockets often misfire and explode inside Gaza.
The latest escalation has drawn in militants from Hamas, which rules the territory but has largely refrained from attacking Israel since a war more than three years ago. Other Palestinian groups persisted with rocket assaults and other attacks on Israel during that time.