Palestinian militants threaten Israel in Hebrew

Palestinian militants inspired by al-Qaida posted a Hebrew-language threat on a radical Islamic website Thursday, vowing revenge for the deaths of two Gaza militants in an Israeli airstrike.

It appeared to be the first time that one of the murky, al-Qaida-inspired groups in Gaza have issued a threat in Hebrew, though larger militant organizations, including Gaza's Hamas rulers and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, have done so before.

The recording, posted by a group identifying itself as Ansar al-Sunna, came a day after an Israeli airstrike hit two senior members of the Army of Islam. Both groups are believed to be closely linked.

The Israeli military had no comment on the audio recording.

In a statement, it said the men targeted were "part of a terror cell that planned to kidnap and kill Israelis" in the Sinai peninsula, a popular tourist spot.

The voice speaks in broken and heavily accented Hebrew and is full of echoes, making it hard to decipher at times. A version of the message also appeared on the popular web video site YouTube juxtaposed over a picture of an assault rifle with Hebrew lettering.

Despite its amateur appearance, its presence on popular sites used by al-Qaida militants showed the ongoing efforts by groups in Gaza to link themselves with the global terror network and sow fear among Israelis.

"Killing our comrades will not stop us continuing jihad. It won't bring you security," the voice says, mentioning the names of the two men killed on Wednesday.

"We will continue firing rockets if God wills it, unless you leave Palestine. Your civilians will never be safe wherever they are from us," it says.

Boaz Ganor, executive director of The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said the Army of Islam's capability to retaliate is limited, but should not be underestimated by Israel.

"Terrorism is a psychological warfare and terrorists are trying to maximize their threats and spread fear and anxiety in any possible matter," he said. "This is the reason for transmitting these threats in Hebrew. Threats in the spoken language of the victim is meant to be more frightening then threats which are being translated and reported from other languages."

The Army of Islam participated in the cross-border capture of an Israeli soldier in 2006, and also kidnapped and held a British Broadcasting Corp. journalist the following year, and more recently, has fired a series of rockets into Israel.

The group also has posted Arabic-language videos, making threats and showing powerful explosions, in other extremist web forums.

Still, there is no evidence that the group receives funding from al-Qaida, and Palestinian officials insist there is no direct connection.

"Israel takes all these threats seriously. These groups are always trying to kill us," said Efraim Inbar, an anti-terrorism expert at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "It's not clear if this group is Army of Islam or a different al-Qaida-minded group, what's the difference. It's just another group that hates us."

Hamas has gone to great lengths to distance itself from al-Qaida, saying that its violent activities, which have included rocket attacks and suicide bombings, are directly only at Israel, and not the West at large.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor played down the significance of the recording, noting its poor quality, and suggested it may be an attempt to impress followers in Gaza by showing it can "threaten the enemy" in their own language. But he said that Gaza militants are a clear threat.

"The group itself is dangerous," he said. "The fact that it is issuing threats on the Internet is meaningless. It is dangerous because of what it does, not what it posts."

Last year, a different Al Qaida inspired group called Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Supporters of God) sent explosives-laden horses toward an Israeli border post, but the attack failed and four militants were killed in a battle with the Israeli military.

Hamas praised the dead as martyrs at the time, but were later angered when Jund Ansar Allah's leader flanked by masked gunmen at a mosque proclaimed Gaza an Islamic state.

Hamas raided the mosque and 16 gunmen died along with five Hamas men and five civilians.