IAF strikes more Hamas targets in Gaza in response to mortar fire

The Israel Air Force struck four Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip early Thursday morning, for the second time over the past 24 hours.

The airstrike came after senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk declared on Wednesday night that the IDF will pull back from the Gaza border and in return, the different Palestinian factions in the Strip would cease fire after six mortar shells were launched at Israeli troops operating near the border fence throughout the day Wednesday.

“What is happening on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip is an Israeli attempt to set new facts on the ground, over 150 meters away from the border. This is what caused our men to enter this confrontation, to prevent their bulldozers from perpetuating this conduct,” Abu Marzouk said.

According to Abu Marzouk, Egypt helped mediate the renewed ceasefire. “Egypt’s response was quick and serious and returned the situation to what it was before,” he said.

Israel did not comment on Abu Marzouk’s claims.

Earlier, sources in Gaza  reported that the IDF had begun withdrawing its forces from the border area following the Hamas ceasefire announcement, aided by drone covering fire.

While none were hurt on the Israeli side from the mortar shell fire, the IDF responded with tank fire at Hamas military posts throughout the day Wednesday. In the evening hours of Wednesday, the IAF attacked five targets in the southern Gaza  in the Dahaniya airport area, near Rafah.

In light of the escalation on the border, the IDF declared the area from the Sa’ad Junction to the border, near the Gaza City neighborhood of Saja’iyya, a closed military zone. This is a move taken in the area whenever the situation on the border escalates, due to its proximity to the fence, but is still considered an unusual one since Operation Protective Edge.

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This was also the first time Hamas has fired into Israel since Operation Protective Edge, after its men vigorously enforced the ceasefire over the past year and a half.

The IDF estimated that the mortar fire throughout the day Wednesday was directly aimed at IDF troops during engineering work in the border fence area in search of any other Hamas tunnels crossing into Israeli territory. These operations are taking place in several different spots along the border since Protective Edge, but it was only over the past 24 hours or so that it garnered a violent response from the Palestinians.

Israeli defense official stressed on Wednesday night that the IDF intends to continue its operations along the border fence, and estimated the mortar fire will continue in the coming days.

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Hamas is worried that its most significant strategic asset against Israel, the border-crossing attack tunnels, will be located and destroyed by the IDF in the coming months. This will be done thanks to an Israeli technological breakthrough on the issue, which led to the increase of pressure in the Gaza Strip to stop Israeli operations.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, released a statement on Wednesday following the escalation on the border, vowing not to allow Israel to continue its “aggression.”

“Israel must leave Gazan territory immediately,” the statement said. The Qassam Brigades accused Israel of violating the ceasefire agreement reached at the end of Operation Protective Edge.

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