Aqaba rocket
Jordanian security inspecting the scene of a rocket strike in downtown Aqaba. Photo by AFP
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The commander of Hamas' military wing in Rafah, Raed al-Atar, is responsible for ordering the firing of Grad-type Katyusha rockets at Eilat and Aqaba from Sinai earlier this week, Palestinian security officials say.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported yesterday that Egypt had declared a state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula as part of a manhunt for the militants who fired the rockets.

It was also reported that senior security officials went to Sinai to investigate the incident and hunt down the militants, who are still believed to be in the peninsula.

Security sources told Haaretz that according to an investigation by Palestinian intelligence, Atar was behind the rocket attacks authorized by the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, without the knowledge of the Hamas military commander there, Ahmed Jabari.

But Palestinian security sources said Atar carried out the attack with the approval of the Hamas leadership abroad and with the backing of Iranian intelligence agents, who appear to have initiated the mission.

The sources said the attack had been approved by the Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Meshal, based in Damascus.

Atar, who in recent years has greatly increased his power and influence in the Gaza Strip, particularly in Hamas' armed wing, is now asserting greater authority over the tunnels in which goods are smuggled from Sinai into Gaza.

According to intelligence sources, a number of militants under his control crossed into Sinai through the Rafah tunnels, where they were met by Egyptian drivers and the Grad-type Katyusha rockets. They drove in off-road vehicles toward Taba on the Red Sea coast, avoiding security checks by the Egyptians.

The militants fired seven rockets; one fell near an Egyptian security installation near Taba, and six others near Eilat and Aqaba.

Hamas had steered clear from carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets from the territory of a third country, and it certainly has not targeted Jordan. But Hamas members have been arrested on their way to attack Israeli targets in Egypt.

In Jordan many Hamas operatives have been arrested, along with weapons that apparently were part of a plan to strike Jordanian targets or Israeli targets in Amman.

A day after the rocket attacks the Jordanians said they knew who was behind the operation, until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that the attacks were carried out by Hamas.

If Hamas is indeed guilty, the incident may worsen relations between the Palestinian Islamist group and Egypt and Jordan.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces has stepped up its preparedness along the border with Egypt, amid concerns that militants planned to carry out further attacks from Egypt.

The Egyptians have also stepped up activity on their side of the border with increased patrols by troops in armored personnel carriers.