- Eilat hit by missile ‘fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula’ this morning
- Resort set to host European Triathlon Championships later this month
- No-one injured in attack police believe carried out by Islamic militants
- ‘Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula turning into a terror zone’, says Netanyahu
By Lee Moran
PUBLISHED: 03:41 EST, 5 April 2012 | UPDATED: 09:45 EST, 5 April 2012
A popular Israeli tourist resort was hit by a rocket attack this morning.
The Red Sea destination of Eilat, hosting the European Triathlon Championships later this month, was already on high alert because of the upcoming Jewish Passover holiday starting this weekend.
No-one was hurt in the attack, with police believing the missile was launched by Islamic militants from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Many overseas tourists are already in the area, and it is due to welcome more than 4,000 athletes for the gruelling cycle-swim-run event which starts on April 19.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, in an area which has general escaped terrorist attacks in recent year.
But Israel has been warning of growing lawlessness in Sinai following the uprising last year that overthrew the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Israeli officials say weak policing and difficult terrain may be turning the peninsula into the latest focus of Islamic militant activity in the region.
‘We are seeing now with Eilat that the Sinai Peninsula is turning into a terror zone,’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the attack.
He added: ‘We cannot grant immunity to terror, we must fight against it.’
Egyptian security forces and military aircraft were searching southeastern Sinai for militants believed to be behind the launch, Egyptian security officials said.
Last year, gunmen from the Sinai infiltrated into Israel and ambushed vehicles on a desert highway, killing eight Israelis in a brazen, co-ordinated attack.
Israel accused Palestinian militants from Gaza of crossing westward into Sinai, making their way along the Israel-Egypt border and crossing back eastward into Israel to carry out the attack.
COULD IRON DOME BE INTRODUCED TO COMBAT EGYPTIAN THREAT?
Israel is currently building an electronic barrier along its 150mile frontier with Egypt.
Designed to halt the entry of both militants and illegal migrants, it is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
But the fence ‘does not stop rockets’ and so Israel is also working on a solution to tackle the problem of incoming missiles.
It could see an extension of Israel’s Iron Dome, a mobile short-range rocket interceptor system which currently protects the nation from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Israel has so far deployed three of the systems, which helped fend off Palestinian rocket salvoes during a flare-up in fighting around the area last month.
It uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of between 3miles and 45miles, as well as mortar bombs, in mid-air.
That incident suggested Egypt’s political upheaval and the resulting power vacuum allowed Gaza militants with allies in Sinai to open a new front against Israel on its long-quiet frontier with Egypt.
Rockets are regularly fired into Israel by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, but launches from Egyptian territory are rare.
Today’s attack appeared to be the first cross-border rocket attack from Egypt since the fall of the Mubarak regime last year.
Rockets last hit Eilat and the nearby Jordanian town of Aqaba in 2010, killing one person and injuring four.
In a bid to halt the entry of both militants and illegal migrants, Israel has stepped up surveillance on the Egyptian border and is building an electronic barrier along the 150mile frontier. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Netanyahu acknowledged the fence ‘does not stop rockets’, but that ‘a solution will be found’ to rockets from Egypt.
Israel has been battling rocket fire from Gaza with a short-range rocket interceptor, the Iron Dome. It was not immediately clear if there were plans to position a mechanism near the Egyptian border.
Most militant attacks in Sinai are directed against Egyptian government targets, including police facilities and a natural gas pipeline that supplies Israel and Jordan.
Islamic radicals who fled Egyptian prisons during the chaos surrounding last year’s revolution sought asylum in Sinai, hooking up with disgruntled tribes and militant groups that already had built strongholds there.
Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but with the rise of Islamist parties who traditionally view Israel with hostility, Israel has become concerned that the accord may be under threat.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party in Egypt’s parliament, does not openly oppose the peace deal with Israel.
But it has said it would consider amending the pact to allow more Egyptian troops along the border with Israel. The deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai is limited under the 1979 deal.
Eilat’s mayor Meir Yitzhak-Halevy said today the resort would carry on as normal.
With its year-round sunshine, it has long been a favourite destination for UK visitors, particularly during UK winters.
And Eilat’s attraction as a tourist centre could soon be further enhanced. An unidentified individual has offered to buy around 5,500 Titanic artefacts and display them in the town.
They include maps of the disaster area, photos of the wreck on the bottom of the ocean, and 1,000 hours of video footage.
It documents the seven diving expeditions held at the site since 1987. The Jewish Passover holiday, which commemorates the exodus of the biblical Israelites from slavery in Egypt, starts tomorrow night and last for one week.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2125457/Israel-Red-Sea-resort-Eilat-hit-missile-fired-Egypts-Sinai-Peninsula.html#ixzz1r5kEWi26