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BREAKING: Palestinians Fire at Least 60 Rockets At Southern Israel

Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip launched at least 60 rockets at Israeli population centers around 5 p.m. local time Wednesday, triggering sirens across the country’s Gaza envelop and deepening worries that Palestinian terror groups may be positioning themselves to start another round of fighting with the Jewish state.

Early reports had the attacks claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), one of several groups that observers worry have been stockpiling weapons, including advanced missiles. PIJ, Hamas, and other Gazan terror organizations have been locked in cycles of cooperation and competition for domestic and regional popularity. A PIJ team yesterday managed to fire a mortar at Israel. An Israeli airstrike targeted the fighters, killing three.

A top Hamas official publicly boasted this week that the Iran-backed terror group intends to blanket Israel with missiles and rockets during any future conflagration. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had warned as far back as last fall that Hamas was arming itself in anticipation of “a renewal of violence,” an assessment that came amid increasingly specific intelligence indicating that the organization was looking to provoke a conflict with Israel in order to reverse what had become a precipitous decline in its domestic and international positions.

Subsequent moves by Egyptian authorities to economically and politically isolate the group had in recent months further eroded Hamas’s standing, and an Egyptian court earlier this month formally outlawed its activities. Cairo blames Hamas for facilitating the transfer of personnel and materials to jihadists in the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula.

The uptick in violence comes in the wake of literally years of calls on Israel – from among others top Turkish political figures, Amnesty International, the International Monetary Fund [PDF], and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – to lift restrictions on the transfer of materials into the Gaza Strip. The Israelis have insisted that Hamas and other anti-Israel terror groups would seek to import materials used to construct weapons, while international organizations have sought to downplay such risks.

The barrages also come just days after Israeli commandos interdicted an Iranian vessel carrying advanced weapons, including missiles capable of reaching across Israel, to the Gaza Strip. The weapons were hidden behind shipments of concrete.

While Israel has recently relaxed restrictions on building materials, it is likely that ongoing barrages of the type seen today will affect Jerusalem’s calculus on the issue.

[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube]