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Middle east

Israeli city of Eilat struck by two rockets

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-04-17

A jihadist group on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the two rockets that hit the resort town of Eilat in southern Israel earlier in the day. Israeli officials said nobody was injured.

Militants in the Sinai peninsula fired at least two rockets at Israel’s southern resort town of Eilat early Wednesday, officials said, highlighting what Israel says is a dire security situation in neighboring Egypt. A jihadist group later claimed the attack.

Nobody was hurt in the attack, police said, although one rocket exploded near the courtyard of a house. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the remains of two Grad-style katyusha rockets had been found and bomb experts were looking for more.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was traveling to London Wednesday for the funeral of Britain’s late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said he had spoken with his defense minister and discussed how to respond.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel but relations are cool. The Sinai was until recently a popular destination for Israeli travelers.

But Israeli officials have grown increasingly jittery about the situation in the Sinai since the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Islamic militant groups, some believed to be affiliated with the al-Qaida terror network, have taken advantage of a power vacuum in the lawless area and have carried out a string of rocket attacks and other operations along the border.

The deadliest was in August 2011, when militants from the Sinai rushed into Israel, ambushing Israeli buses and cars with gunfire and a bomb, killing eight Israelis. During the melee, Israeli forces killed three Egyptian soldiers. Israel later apologized for their deaths. It was unclear how they were killed: one account said there was an exchange of fire between soldiers as they pursued the militants, while Egyptian officials said they were killed in an airstrike.

Israel believes militants from the Gaza Strip, which also borders the Sinai, are also operating in the area. Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, has said security in southern Israel from threats in the Sinai is a high priority. The regime change in Egypt, now governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, has not damaged cooperation between the countries’ security forces, he added.

“Coordination even improved in certain aspects,” he said Tuesday.

Israel has increased surveillance on the porous Egyptian border over the past two years, and is building a barrier along the 230-kilometer (150-mile) frontier to keep out militants and African migrants. In a reflection of Israeli concerns, the military moved a battery of its new “Iron Dome” rocket-defense system into Eilat earlier this month.

Although air-raid sirens went off, the military said the system, which is meant to fire when rockets are headed toward populated areas, was not deployed. It cited “operational circumstances” but did not elaborate.

Danny Lahav of Eilat’s Chamber of Commerce told channel 2 TV that he heard the sound of a “faint explosion” in the morning, followed by two louder explosions. Residents in the popular tourist destination remained calm, he said, adding that he hopes the attack won’t dissuade visitors.

Israeli media said there were reports rockets had also hit the tourist city of Aqaba in neighboring Jordan, but Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali told the Associated Press that “no rockets” fell in Jordan.

A senior Egyptian military intelligence official in Sinai said the army was investigating the incident. He said investigators were looking into the possibility of strikes launched from southern Sinai, around the popular tourist area of Taba along the Red Sea and nearby mountainous areas.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-04-17

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