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Two barrels containing large amounts of explosives washed up on the beach yesterday, one each at Ashkelon and at Ashdod. Both barrels, containing between 15 and 25 kilograms of explosives each, were neutralized by police sappers.

Sources in the Southern District police said they believed the barrels, which originated in Gaza, were intended to explode next to a ship or near beachgoers.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the barrels.

Police have banned fishing or swimming at the beaches between Ashdod and Zikim today over concerns that there may be additional explosives still in the Mediterranean or on a beach.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service say the barrels are connected to a series of explosions heard at sea on Friday night shortly before midnight, about two kilometers north of the northern border of the Gaza coast.

Security officials said that terror actions at sea are carried out jointly by Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees.

As far as is known, Hamas is not directly involved in these actions.

Security officials said the attempted attack was original, but not especially sophisticated, and that attempts by terror groups to perpetrate attacks by sea would continue and increase in the near future.

Large police contingents are to deploy today to search for any additional explosive charges. The operation was ordered by police head of operations Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sao after he held consultations.

The search began last night along the shore, on foot and by air, and was scheduled to resume at dawn today.

Security personnel at infrastructure facilities along the shore were instructed to heighten their level of alertness and to conduct increased patrols.

Police are asking the public to be particularly aware of any suspicious objects, especially at bathing beaches, and to inform the police immediately if they find anything unusual.

The barrel that washed ashore on Ashkelon's Hofit beach was discovered by a fisherman at 11:30 A.M. After he called police the beach was evacuated. It took several hours for sappers to neutralize the explosives, which were taken to a laboratory for examination.