Hamas launches large-scale military exercise in Gaza
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades fire at least one rocket into the sea as part of drill; several replicas of Israeli Merkava tanks used to simulate IDF forces; on border, tractors begin preparing ground on Palestinian side for planned Great March of Return on Friday.
Hamas's military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, launched a large-scale military exercise in the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning.
The exercise, which is set to end Monday morning, incorporates several replicas of the Israeli-made Merkava tanks to simulate IDF forces.
Eye-witnesses in Gaza said Hamas launched at least one rocket into the sea as part of the exercise.
Tensions have been on the rise on the Gaza border ahead of a Hamas-organized Great March of Return, which will see Palestinians in the strip marching en masse toward the border with Israel starting this Friday, Land Day, with protests expected to continue until May 15, Nakba Day.
Ahead of the march, the Palestinians claim the IDF scattered flyers into the Gaza Strip warning them to keep at least a 300 meter distance from the border fence.
According to the Palestinians, the flyers say: "Anyone who goes near the fence is endangering himself. The IDF will take all necessary measures to distance him, including the use of live fire if the need arises. Beware, so you won't regret it."
The IDF denied that it was behind the flyers.
Also on Sunday morning, tractors began flattening the ground near the border fence on the Gazan side to prepare the area for a city of tents the Palestinians plan to erect there to house the protesters who arrive for the march. The tractors also created mounds of dirt to protect participants from Israeli fire.
The IDF's Gaza Division is also making preparations for the march, including reinforcing the obstacles on the border with pyramids of barbed-wire. The army also plans to use advanced measures against rioters.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, slammed Hamas ahead of the planned demonstration, warning the terror organization of exploiting it for their own ends. "Hamas is and will continue exploiting the demonstrations in front of the fence to incorporate Hamas members, who will blend in with the protesters in civilian clothing. A transparent and obvious move."
On Saturday, four Palestinians entered Israel from the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Kissufim and attempted to torch heavy engineering equipment used for the construction of the underground anti-tunnel barrier. There were no casualties and only minor damage was caused to the heavy equipment. The four fled back into the strip when they saw an IDF force approaching.
Israel Air Force fighter jets attacked a target at a Hamas training camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip overnight Saturday in response to the incident.
The IDF "warned of any incidents in which civilians are called to hold 'protests' used as cover to damage security infrastructure and to attempts to hurt Israeli citizens or IDF soldiers."