Hamas Launches Surprise Drill, Raises Alert Across Gaza

Organization 'testing readiness for an extensive attempt to harm stability in the Strip,' government sources say

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 21, 2015.
\ REUTERS

Hamas launched a drill Tuesday "to test the readiness" of its forces "for a scenario of an extensive attempt to harm public order and stability in the Gaza Strip," Interior Ministry sources said.

"At this time, a surprise exercise is being carried out that deals with a scenario of a surprise security threat, in order to test the readiness of security forces," an official Hamas Interior Ministry statement said.   

According to reports in Palestinian media, Hamas security forces announced that the alert level was raised to its highest, and militants were called up for duty. The Gaza fishermen's association also said Hamas's naval police forces imposed a maritime blockade "until further notice," urging all fishermen at sea to return to shore.

A joint statement from Palestinian factions in Gaza said that troops were called up and put on standby to test the readiness of the home front, and information from the field shows that the results were positive and the response was perfect. 

Later on Tuesday night, the drill was declared over and Gaza fishermen said they were notified of an end to the temporary maritime blockade. 

The drill comes a day after the Israeli military uncovered a cross-border tunnel reaching from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Monday, which the army says had not been in use. On the same day, the Israeli military shot down a drone that crossed into Israel from Gaza.

Despite steps towards establishing calm, rhetoric has been ramped up on the Gaza border in recent weeks. On Friday, the Gaza Heatlh Ministry reported that 40 Palestinians were wounded by IDF fire in protests along the Gaza border, in which four protesters breached the fence, one carrying a knife. Two were arrested, while the other two returned to Gaza before forces could apprehend them. 

Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza caused about 100 fires in Israeli border communities in one week in late June. Community leaders on the border are frustrated with what they perceive as the government's inaction with regards to the arson and rocket attacks.   

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that although the government prefers calm, "we are preparing for a large-scale military operation, if necessary."