Israel's Iron dome missile defense system was activated several times late Sunday evening as a result of light artillery fire from a drill carried out by Hamas' military arm in the Gaza Strip.
Multiple rocket sirens sounded in southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border, including in the city of Ashkelon. Local residents said they heard several explosions, followed by reports of airplanes flying overhead.
The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military arm, carried a large-scale drill throughout the coastal enclave Sunday. Websites identified with Hamas said the drill simulated an overall frontal clash between Qassam Brigades units and the Israeli military, emphasizing that the drill practiced lines of defense, not attack.
In Gaza it was described as the first time since Hamas’ establishment that such an exercise is announced in advance, with warnings stating ahead of the exercise that throughout the Gaza Strip there would be sounds of explosions and use of live fire.
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Pictures that circulated in Gaza showed armed militants stationed all across the Strip, including in cities. In areas closer to the border fence, Hamas practiced a scenario in which Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers infiltrate Gaza; such a case was illustrated through usage of tank models and live fire. As part of the drill, militants also fired rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea.
A Hamas operative told Haaretz that despite the fact that the exercise was scheduled in advance, it is noteworthy that it is being held against the backdrop of the ever-worsening crisis in the Strip as well as provocation by Salafists and Israelis in the area. “The message is very clear to everyone,” he said. “Anyone who might try to challenge the brigades should bear in mind that we are very strong and Israel ought to understand that not every military adventure would be a walk in the park.”
The Palestinian factions in the Strip called for marches to the border fence with Israel on Friday, when Israeli Arabs also mark Land Day.
Also, one of the questions in the Strip following the announcement involved the timing and messages that Hamas wanted to convey. In the Strip it is said that the events of recent weeks, from the Israeli attack on the tunnels to the attempt to assassinate Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, to the collapse of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation efforts that promised to bring humanitarian relief to the Strip, have all raised questions about the strength of Hamas’ rule in Gaza. The freeze in reconciliation and the depth of the suffering in Gaza puts the focus on the Qassam Brigades as defenders of the Hamas regime.
At the same time, Hamas continues its efforts to publish its view of the plan to assassinate Hamdallah. The newspaper Al-Hayat, published in London, reported last weekend that the main suspect, Anas Abu Khoussa, is an Islamic State activist, and it was two of his friends who planned to assassinate Hamdallah by placing an explosive device on the route where he was traveling, and activated the device with a cell phone.
Senior Hamas members said last weekend that the security services in the Strip have all the evidence linking members of the squad to the assassination attempt, while the PA continued to doubt this version, claiming that Hamas is putting on an act to divert attention from their responsibility for the incident.
The drill came a day after the Israeli military said it struck a Hamas target in the Strip in retaliation for an incident earlier that day in which four Palestinians illegally crossed the border into Israel.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the incident started around 5 P.M. on Saturday when four Palestinians carrying bottles filled with flamable material approached the fence on foot and managed to cross the border into Israel near Kibbutz Kissufim.