A projectile launched from Gaza in the direction of Israel fell short of the border in the Gaza Strip on Monday, hours after Israel struck Hamas positions in Gaza.
The mortar, which set off rocket sirens in communities in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council near the northern border of the strip, reportedly caused two audible explosions.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Israel Air Force struck two Hamas positions in northern Gaza after Palestinians had launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel earlier in the day.
According to Palestinian sources, the drone strike occurred near Beit Hanoun and left several people wounded.
The strikes come two days into a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas
after it launched 200 mortars and rockets into southern Israel and Israel retaliated by striking over 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday visited the southern Israeli city of Sderot and told reporters that there would be no ceasefire with Hamas unless aerial incendiary devices stop.
“To us, there is no such thing as a ceasefire that excludes the incendiary kites and balloons – no such thing. I’ll say this for the seventh time and I hope it gets through, but if it’s not understood by my words, it will be understood by the IDF’s actions,” he said.
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Israel says it has lost at least 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) of farmland, nature reserves and forests because of the fires caused by flaming kites and balloons.
On Monday, an employee of the National Parks Authority found a dead falcon, which had a rope with flammable material attached to it, in a torched field near the Habesor Stream in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) posted on Twitter that: “Arson fires have been caused by incendiary materials flown from Gaza into Israel. Apparently it’s not enough to destroy nature with kites, now falcons are being used for terror as well.”
On Sunday, the military launched a series of drills across the country including one in the South simulating war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The division drill, which is to last until Thursday, will also see the 162nd Armored Division’s 401st Brigade simulate the capturing of Gaza City by IDF troops.
The drill, which is taking place in areas in Beersheba as well as several Bedouin towns in the Negev, also sees troops from the armored, infantry, engineering and artillery corps train for a variety of scenarios inside enemy territory including handling the local civilian population.
Captain Sagi Cohen, who is taking part in the drill, told The Jerusalem Post
that the drill will focus on tactics and lessons from Operation Protective Edge, the last conflict with the terror group. Soldiers taking part in the exercises will drill on fighting in tunnels as well as in urban and open areas.
“We understand that all of Gaza has tunnels underneath it, something that we didn’t understand in Operation Protective Edge. Urban combat is not clean; there could be tunnels anywhere,” Cohen said.
While the IDF maintained that exercises had been planned in advance “as part of the annual training program,” they come as tensions have once again risen along the border with the Hamas-run coastal enclave and according to reports in Hebrew-language press a senior IDF officer in the southern command said that the 162nd Division would be scrambled to the border if needed.
“We want to be as prepared as possible,” he said, adding that “we are ready for war with Gaza, even if it began yesterday.”
And according to Cohen, his troops are prepared: "We don’t make decisions but if the decision is made that we need to go to war then the troops are ready and we will do what is needed."
On Monday, the IDF addressed a speech which was set to be given by Iran’s Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force. Solemani was supposed to speak in Tehran and his speech carried via satellite to the Gaza Strip to the crowd at the “Wet Gunpowder” festival organized by Iran for the past several years across the Middle East.
According to Yossi Mansharof, a researcher of Iran and Shiite communities at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, the speech delivered by Solemani “comes in retaliation for designation of Resistance Axis and its officials as terror entities by the US."
Mansharof told the Post
that a speech by Solemani to residents of the Gaza Strip is rare and shows the explicit support by Tehran and the IRGC's Quds force to back Hamas' "current aggressive campaign against Israel."
"This is actually the first time he is publicly participating, by video, in a local gathering," he said, adding that Hamas leadership under Yahya Sinwar has chosen "to enhance its relation with Iran at the expense of Egypt."
"What Soleimani will be talking about is anybody's guess. The development of the Strip?” read an Arabic-language Facebook post by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
“Rebuilding its offices and homes? Increasing the electricity supply? Water? Help for the needy? Iran has invested considerable funding in Hamas, but not in Gaza Strip itself or in is residents. Soleimani doesn't care about the people of Syria and he doesn’t care about the Gazans – who should wake up before the Gaza Strip turns into a neighborhood of Tehran."
Israeli officials have accused Iran of growing involvement in the Hamas-run enclave, both financially and militarily.
Hamas leader Yihya Sinwar has boasted about his close ties to Hezbollah and Iran, including Soleimani and Salah al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’ political wing, who visited Tehran and met with Solemani and other senior Iranian officials following his appointment.
In December Soleimani offered Iran’s support to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. According to the IRGC’s website, Sepah News, Soleimani made the offer in a telephone conversation with commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — the armed wing of Hamas. Sepah noted that Soleimani stated that other “resistance forces” in the region were also ready to support Palestinians.
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