(CNSNews.com) – An unexplained explosion at the Gaza Strip home of a senior Hamas commander on Monday added to tensions that have been building since Gaza-based terrorists on Friday fired a rocket at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
The uptick in violence began a day after the Arab League gave its backing to Palestinian Authority (P.A.) chairman Mahmoud Abbas to enter into direct peace talks with Israel -- if and when he decides it is right to do so.
The timing of the escalation prompted speculation that radicals in Gaza are demonstrating their opposition to the prospect of talks with Israel.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum on Sunday said the people of Gaza are paying for the Arab League’s “sin” in endorsing the talks, and he urged the body to revoke its decision.
Barhoum said the Arab League’s move had provided Israel with “cover for its continued aggression against our people.”
Hamas officials claimed Monday’s blast at the home of Abu Anas el-Danaf in central Gaza was caused by an Israeli missile, but the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it was not responsible. One unidentified person was killed, and Danaf was reportedly not among more than 30 people injured in the explosion.
Danaf was reportedly a bomb-maker. Accidental detonations have frequently occurred in premises used to prepare or store bombs in the Palestinian territories.
Monday’s incident came three days after a rocket landed in Ashkelon, causing damage to cars and buildings in the city of 125,000 people but no injuries.
The IDF retaliated late Friday with air strikes targeting what it described as a “Hamas-linked terror activity site” in northern Gaza, a weapons facility in the center of the strip and weapons-smuggling tunnels along southern Gaza’s border with Egypt.
The strikes killed a terrorist and “rocket maker” in Hamas’ military wing, named as Issa Batran. Palestinian sources said the target in the north was a compound formerly used by Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, now a Hamas facility.
On Saturday night another rocket was launched from Gaza, this time causing extensive damage to a building in the small western Negev town of Sderot that is used by day as a rehabilitation center for disabled children.
The IDF responded again, firing missiles at two more tunnels in the southern strip which it said were used by terrorists and weapons smugglers.
The IDF said in a statement that around 110 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israeli territory from Gaza since the beginning of this year.
Both the IDF and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel blames Hamas for all terror emanating from the territory it has controlled since ousting Abbas’ Fatah faction in 2007.
“I view Hamas as being directly responsible for any attack on the State of Israel that originates in the Gaza Strip, and this is how the international community must see things,” Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting Sunday.
“Israel reserves the right to defend its citizens and we will continue to take all necessary measures in order to defend the State of Israel, Israeli citizens and Israeli children,” he said.
The U.S. has been applying sustained pressure on Abbas to enter direct talks with the Israeli government. Such talks have been frozen since 2008.
Abbas has been holding out for an Israeli commitment for a complete halt in settlement construction in the West Bank – beyond the 10-month temporary freeze Netanyahu agreed to last October under pressure from Washington. Abbas also wants Israel to agree to his demands on the borders of a future Palestinian state.
In Cairo on Thursday, the 22-nation Arab League gave Abbas its approval to hold direct talks with Israel, but said it was up to the P.A. leader to decide whether to do so.
Netanyahu on Sunday urged Abbas “to make a courageous decision in order to start peace talks with Israel.”
“I think that the international community, at least an important part of it, and certainly the U.S., expects the Palestinian Authority to put aside the claims, excuses and conditions – and enter into peace talks, not just in order to hold peace talks, but in order to achieve a peace settlement based on security,” he said.