JERUSALEM – Israel accused Iran of ordering attacks by the militant Palestinian group on Saturday, which overnight assumed responsibility for a heavy rocket fire from Gaza.
Israel responded to attacks on its southern territory by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group with retaliatory attacks against militant targets in Gaza. No deaths were reported on both sides.
Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds squad had communicated directly with Islamic jihad, a largely Iranian-funded extremist group in Gaza, and orchestrated and orchestrated the rocket fire.
While focusing on Iran, Colonel Conricus also accused neighboring Syria of playing an indefinite role in rocket fire, suggesting that the orders could come from Iranian troops.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, Daoud Shehab, denied that the group had traded orders from the Iranian Quds Army or any other outside power. He said the group had responded Friday during weekly protests at the Gaza border fence for the assassination of four Palestinians by Israeli forces.
"What we did was a duty to defend the blood of the army on the Gaza borders". Mr. Shehab said:
Islamic jihad usually works with Hamas, the larger militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. But Islamic jihad sometimes asserts itself and competes with Hamas.
In an apparent attempt to withdraw before Gaza and Israel are drawn into a broader escalation, the Islamic Jihad on Saturday said it would stop rocket launches and that with Egypt's help, an understanding has been reached to restore calm.
Israel has waged three wars against militant groups in Gaza over the last decade, the last in 2014.
Israeli and Palestinian analysts speculated on possible Iranian motives for ordering the launch of nearly 40 short-range missiles in four barrages from dusk on Friday to about 10 pm on Saturday.
Several said that it is most likely to do with an Iranian desire to disrupt greater efforts by Egypt and the United Nations to stabilize the break-even that ended the war between Gaza and Israel in 2014 and possibly the conditions of the truce extended.
Some analysts consider the ceasefire talks as part of a more ambitious American plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement that could soon be presented by President Trump.
"Even if the Iranians want to confuse everything, there is no chance they can do that now," said Talal Okal, a Palestinian writer and politician. The Gaza City-based analyst added that both sides are counting on one stable truce.
While Israel seeks peace, Hamas wants a relaxation of the Gaza blockade imposed on Israel with Egyptian help, citing security concerns. Such relaxation would bring some relief to the two million inhabitants of the impoverished coastal enclave.
In a small sign of progress last week, Israel resumed the transfer of Qatar-funded fuel supplies to Gaza to alleviate chronic electricity shortages. The fuel transport was suspended in mid-October due to previous violence at the border.
"The Islamic Jihad knows he can not change the current," Mr. Okal said over the phone from Gaza City. "But at this moment, it is motivated to present yourself as an independent faction and not as one that is always subject to the decisions of Hamas."
Ron Ben-Yishai, a military commentator on Ynet, a Hebrew news site, wrote on Saturday that Iran would most likely foil all plans for a major Israeli-Palestinian deal and pressure the Americans, the next wave of sanctions against Tehran Oil exports do not continue.
The rocket fire started shortly after Israeli troops killed and wounded four Palestinians during Friday's border protest. The Israeli military said rioters hurled grenades, incendiary bombs and rocks, and in two cases Palestinians briefly crossed the fence into Israeli territory.
No Israeli soldiers were injured. On Saturday, a fifth Palestinian died of injuries sustained the day before.
The Israeli anti-missile defense system Iron Dome has intercepted about 17 missiles, which, according to the military, have spread to Israeli civilian communities, mainly the border town of Sderot. Others fell into open ground.
The Israeli military said it had first responded with air strikes against 87 Hamas targets, which ultimately blamed Israel for all Gaza violence and later against eight Islamic Jihad targets. Friday's rocket fire also came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel and revealed that he had met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, an influential Persian Gulf state that had long acted as a regional mediator (19659002 ) Oman's Foreign Minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, on Saturday gave an insight into the role of the sultanate in the efforts to build an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.  The Manama Dialogue, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, called the Bahraini capital Manama the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a kind of war relic of the past that the Middle East and the region overcome for their own security and development had.
He said that Oman considered the time to be "making modest efforts" to bring the parties together.
"We are not mediators in this matter, but we offer facilities and ideas that could have something new in them," he said, adding that the real work of brokering an agreement must come from the United States.