Palestinian militants fired three Qassam rockets into the western Negev on Wednesday, further unraveling an Israel-Hamas truce in the Gaza Strip.
The rockets struck open areas near a Kibbutz in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council.
Gaza militants earlier in the day fired a volley of mortar shells into Israel, one of which damaged a power cable transferring electricity to the energy-strapped Gaza Strip, according to Army Radio.
The militants launched a total of eight shells at the Eshkol regional council in the attack. Neither the Qassam rockets nor the mortar shells caused any casualties.
On Tuesday, the Israel Air Force killed two Gazans in the Rafah area, in an air strike the army said targeted a Palestinian cell launching mortar shells at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, which borders southern Gaza.
Palestinians fired at least two Qassam rockets and five mortar shells at the western Negev Tuesday, causing no injuries.
Palestinian sources said the fatalities were brothers, and that four others were hurt in the air strike, adding that the brothers and three of the other casualties were "youths." It appears they may have been sent by the organization that fired the rockets in order to dismantle the launcher.
This latest incident is part of a largely low-profile struggle between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces along the border fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.
Since a November 4 IDF operation to locate a tunnel in Gaza, calm has yet to prevail. The small Palestinian groups are responsible for most of the rocket and mortar fire, although Hamas is also occasionally involved.
The IDF believes Hamas is trying to force new rules on Israel in the so-called "security perimeter" within the Gaza Strip, the section about half a kilometer into the Palestinian side of the border fence.
Between July and October, Hamas militants rarely approached the fence, but over the past few weeks, Palestinian cells have been sent there to place explosives in the area, in anticipation of renewed fighting with the IDF.
The cells are also gathering intelligence and reestablishing military outposts. In some cases, most recently on Thursday, the IDF has fired at the militants.
Hamas is trying to force Israel to accept its activity in the security zone, and when the IDF hits the militants, the Palestinians respond with heavy mortar and rocket fire on the Negev.
At this point, the Palestinian reaction does not appear to be keeping the army from targeting the militants, but it has so far refrained from more extensive action. The IDF held back from responding to mortar fire on the Nahal Oz army base on Friday, which wounded eight IDF soldiers, one of them seriously.
It appears that the future of the semi-enforced lull will be determined December 19, six months after the unwritten cease-fire went into effect.
Hamas has so far failed to ease the financial blockade of Gaza and bring in more goods, since the crossing points have been closed for most of the past month in the wake of the rocket fire.
Meanwhile, a rift is deepening between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Egyptian and Saudi governments because Saudi Arabia is not granting entry permits to Palestinians who registered with religious affairs officials in Gaza, rather than Ramallah, to go on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Israeli security sources believe Hamas may breach the Rafah crossing, as it did in January, if the situation is not resolved.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which is trying to retain control of Hamas-run Gaza in addition to the West Bank, have submitted lists of Gaza Palestinians who want to go on hajj to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Hamas is refusing to let the Gazans registered with Ramallah to leave for the hajj.
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