JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants for the first time fired a longer-range Russian-made Katyusha rocket from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Tuesday, the Israeli army confirmed.
The violent Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for firing the 125mm Katyusha, whose range is twice as long as that of the scores of homemade Qassam rockets Palestinian militants have been firing at Israeli border communities in recent years.
Katyushas are deadlier than Qassams and would put larger Israeli communities near Gaza, including the coastal city of Ashkelon, into the range of rockets from Gaza. Israeli security officials said the development was very worrisome.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman, who would only give an assumed name, Abu Abdullah, said the firing of the Katyusha was timed to coincide with Israel’s national election Tuesday.
“We sent a message to the Zionist entity that the blood of Palestinian people will not be at the expense of your elections. Much blood has been shed while campaigning for these elections,” he said.
The Israeli army said the remnants of the Katyusha were found close to Gaza.
Israel TV’s Channel 10 said the rocket fired Tuesday was made in Iran.
Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters, said the Katyusha apparently was smuggled into Gaza through the Palestinian-controlled Gaza-Egypt border.
In more than five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Palestinian militants have fired hundreds of Qassams from Gaza at Israeli targets.
Katyushas were frequently fired by Lebanese guerrillas into northern Israel during Israel’s 18-year military presence in southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000.
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