Netanyahu: Hamas responsible for rockets on Eilat; we will retaliate
PM also blames Lebanese government for violence at border, days after Grad rocket salvo killed Jordanian man in attack from Sinai.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Israeli television Wednesday that Hamas was responsible for the deadly rocket fire on Israel's and Jordan's Red Sea ports on Monday, and that Israel would retaliate.
Earlier Wednesday, Egyptian officials also confirmed that the rocket attacks, which had killed a Jordanian taxi driver in Aqaba, had been carried out by the militant Palestinian group operating from Egypt, after days of denials.
"Over recent days we've witnessed three attacks against Israel," Netanyahu said in a special announcement on Israeli television. "An attack from Gaza on Ashkelon, an attack by the Lebanese army on Israel Defense Forces troops carrying out a routine operation, and another attack from the Sinai peninsula at Eilat. I want to make very clear to Hamas and to the Lebanese government that we view them as responsible for the violent provocation against us."
"Don't test our determination to protect our citizens," the prime minister went on to say.
"Israel will retaliate for every assault. Apparently there were those who understood that, and tried to avoid taking responsibility for these crimes. Three days after our retaliatory operation in Gaza, Grad rockets were fired from Sinai at Eilat and Aqaba by a seemingly anonymous organization. Several months earlier, on April 22, similar rocket fire came from Sinai. We investigated the two incidents – it became clear beyond a doubt that Hamas' military wing in Gaza had perpetrated both attacks under disguise," Netanyahu explained.
"I want to clarify that the use of a third country's soil, one that seeks peace, in order to launch rockets at Israel, will not help Hamas escape culpability. Israel views the attacks against its citizens with extreme severity, as well as the attempt to destabilize Israel's relations with Egypt and Jordan," the prime minister continued.
"Whoever shoots at Israeli citizens, and it doesn't matter from where, we will find them and hit them hard," Netanyahu concluded.
Earlier Wednesday, an Egyptian security official said Hamas had fired seven rockets, including one which misfired and left debris near a security facility in the town of Taba.
The attackers fired Soviet-style Grad rockets of the type used by militants in Lebanon and Gaza, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The rockets hit a narrow area of the Red Coast where the Israeli and Jordanian ports are located side by side. One person was killed and four people were wounded.
Aqaba and Eilat are more than 300 kilometers from Hamas' stronghold in the Gaza Strip. However, an unnamed Egyptian source told Egypt's state MENA agency on Wednesday that "preliminary information indicates that Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip are behind that operation."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri criticized the Egyptian claim, calling it politically motivated. "This sounds silly and does not depend on any actual reasonable evidence," he said.
MENA quoted Egyptian security sources on Monday as saying rockets could not have been fired from Sinai since the largely empty, desert region was very mountainous.
"Egytian statements are conflicting," Abu Zuhri said. "We doubt the credibility of these statements and believe they are unprofessional and politically motivated."
Earlier on Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, when asked if he was convinced the rockets were fired by Hamas, told Israel Radio there could be a link.
"I do not want to say convinced, but it could be that there is a link between Hamas and this firing - perhaps not people who are part of Hamas in Gaza, perhaps a link that is a little more indirect," he said.
Egypt has not indicated where the rockets were launched from, but said it was scaling up the investigation.
"Egypt will not accept the use of its land by any party to harm Egyptian interests," the Egyptian security source said.
In 2005, rockets were fired at U.S. warships in Aqaba but missed their target and killed a Jordanian soldier on land. A group claiming links to al Qaeda said it was behind the attack.
Two years later, a Palestinian suicide bomber infiltrated through Sinai and killed three people at a bakery in Eilat, a tourist resort on Israel's southern tip which has only rarely been touched by the Middle East conflict.
Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab states to have full peace treaties with Israel. Those relations were frayed by Israel's crackdown a decade ago on a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Although Egypt had initially denied that the rockets were fired from its territory, security forces in Israel were certain that the rockets came from Sinai, as has happened in the past.
A number of terrorist groups are operating in the Sinai peninsula and are busy with smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip and efforts to penetrate into Israel.
Among the groups operating in the Sinai are those with links to Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida and other global Jihadi groups.
A senior IDF source said yesterday that the rockets were meant to "embarrass Egypt."
Israel's long border with Egypt is relatively unguarded compared to the electric fences and advanced surveillance systems surrounding the Gaza Strip.
The presence of terrorist groups in the Sinai is one of the reasons for the serious travel warning issued by Israel's Counter Terrorism Unit against Israelis traveling to Sinai and Egypt.
Senior IDF sources stressed that in the past year there has been significant improvement in the coordination activities with the Egyptian and Jordanian armed forces, but they also note that on the Egyptian side there is still some hesitation to confront the gangs in the peninsula head on.