The Israel Air Force have turned Gaza into a warzone again on Wednesday evening, officially declaring the area a “military zone” after the army fired tank shells at the Palestinian occupied territory.
The shelling comes in response to an alleged mortar fire near the border which Israel says Hamas had fired towards Israeli forces in an attempt to deter them from searching for tunnels.
According to reports in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, five airstrikes targeted Hamas training camps in the vicinity of the airport and in the center of the enclave. No casualties were immediately reported.
The IDF spokesman said it had struck five Hamas targets in the Strip’s south. The airstrikes were a response to mortar fire by Hamas, it said. The IDF statement accused Hamas of firing “more than five mortar rounds at forces during operational activities adjacent to the security fence with the Gaza Strip.”
The statement said that “the IDF sees terrorist activities conducted above or below the ground as a violation of Israel’s sovereignty, and sees the Hamas terrorist organization as solely responsible for this terrorist activity.”
The IDF declared the border area a closed military zone on Wednesday, barring access from Saad Junction the Kibbutz Nahal Oz to anyone but residents.
Early on Wednesday evening a mortar shell was fired from Gaza toward the northern part of the border fence, where Israeli forces are present, near Nahal Oz. Israeli tanks returned fire toward two Hamas positions in Shujaiya.
In the afternoon, two similar incidents occurred in the same area. In both cases, the IDF responded with tank fire toward Hamas positions.
In the morning, a mortar shell was fired toward an IDF force near southern Gaza, and the IDF responded by firing tank shells at a Hamas position in Rafah.
The first shooting took place on Tuesday afternoon when light arms fire was directed at the IDF operating near northern Gaza. There were no casualties, but two pieces of heavy machinery were damaged.
The Education Ministry in Gaza ordered two neighborhood schools in Shujaiya evacuated, as a precaution due to Israeli shooting. Evening classes were cancelled.
Hamas’ Interior Ministry has said it was evacuating security centers in the Strip for fear of Israeli attacks. Islamic Jihad published a statement warning of the repercussions of an Israeli escalation. The Palestinian information center run by Hamas reported that “resistance forces” fired mortars and a 107 mm rocket at Nahal Oz after the “Israeli escalation.”
A Hamas political activist told Haaretz from Gaza “Hamas has no intention of breaking the rules of the game and believes that Israel is also not interested in an escalation.
“What has been going on in recent hours is a type of dialogue via mortars and artillery fire,” he said.
“Israel is shooting in a measured way and Hamas is also permitting mortar fire. In Gaza there is no atmosphere of escalation on the horizon or any change in the conduct of its civilians.”
The latest shootings were unusual, in that according to the IDF, Hamas hasn’t fired “a single bullet” at Israel since a 2014 war.
A senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command said a force Hamas created to police the border region has been preventing terrorist attacks and rocket fire against Israel.
That being said, the Hamas has been digging tunnels into Israeli territory and developing weapons such as rockets and drones.
A recently revealed tunnel stretching from Gaza into Israel, which the IDF has destroyed was meant as a staging ground for an attack, the Israeli military has said. It was dug before the last war took place though Hamas had more recently been working on it, the IDF said.