Islamic Jihad breaches cease-fire hours after announcing it

The Iranian terror proxy launched at least two rockets Monday evening, contradicting its announcement hours earlier about concluding this round of “retaliation.”

By Associated Press

The Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip announced a unilateral cease-fire on Monday, calling for a halt after two days of intense fighting with Israel, just a week before the country’s national elections.

In a short statement, the Iranian proxy said it had completed its “retaliation” for the killing of three of its members. But it vowed to respond to any further Israeli “aggression.”

But just hours after the announcement, at least two rockets were fired out of Gaza, raising the prospect of renewed fighting.

Previously, Israeli aircraft pounded dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip, while Islamic Jihad militants bombarded southern Israel with heavy rocket fire before the cease-fire announcement Monday evening.

Israel also expanded its retaliation to Syria, where some of the Iranian-backed group’s leaders are based, killing two more Islamic Jihad terrorists.

There were no reports of civilian casualties on either side.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, locked in the final days of an election campaign, threatened Gaza’s Hamas rulers with a stepped-up operation if the rocket fire continued.

“I’m talking about a war,” he told Israel’s Army Radio station. “I only go to war as a last option, but we have prepared something you can’t even imagine.”

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Despite the tough rhetoric, both sides had an interest in ending the fighting quickly.

For Netanyahu, the violence drew unwanted attention to Israel’s volatile southern border with Gaza, where his government has struggled to halt years of attacks and rocket fire by terror groups. Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, has been exposed in the past few months as a relatively weak and disorganized group — one that acts more as a spoiler capable of undermining cease-fire efforts than a serious military threat to Israel.

In recent months, Israel has worked with U.N. and Egyptian mediators to cement an informal cease-fire with Hamas, the much larger Islamic terror group that has ruled Gaza for more than a decade.

The United Nations’ Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov, tweeted Monday calling for “an IMMEDIATE stop to the firing of rockets that only risks dragging Gaza into another destructive round of hostilities with no end in sight!”

Nonetheless, Islamic Jihad has continued to carry out attacks. The latest round of fighting erupted early Sunday after Israel killed an Islamic Jihad terrorist planting explosives along the border.

An Israeli military bulldozer pushed into Gaza to retrieve his body. Footage of the bulldozer returning the body to Israel quickly spread on Palestinian social media, drawing angry comments and putting pressure on the terror group to respond.

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Islamic Jihad terrorists began firing rockets late Sunday, and had launched 80 rockets by the time the cease-fire was announced, according to the Israeli military. It said over 90% of the rockets were intercepted. But one projectile slammed into an empty playground in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, causing damage to a large slide.

Schools were closed in Israeli areas adjacent to Gaza, roads shut and restrictions placed on outdoor public gatherings.

It was the heaviest round of fighting since November, when Israel and Islamic Jihad engaged in a two-day battle after Israel killed one of the group’s top commanders.

The latest Israeli airstrikes targeted only Islamic Jihad positions. But Israel holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for all fire coming out of the coastal enclave, and could expand its response.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the terror group seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody 2007 coup.

Netanyahu’s opponents have criticized him for his understandings with the group, accusing him of caving in to violence to keep things quiet.

“Netanyahu, the country is under fire. Get on helping it,” said Netanyahu’s chief rival, former military commander Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition Blue and White Party. “The people of the south deserve better.”

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The election will be Israel’s third in under a year, after two inconclusive votes last year.