Amid uptick in tensions, IDF holds drill in southern Israel
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Amid uptick in tensions, IDF holds drill in southern Israel

Army spokesman says exercise pre-planned and unconnected to recent Gazan rocket fire

Soldiers of the Gaza border division take part in a drill on March 22, 2015. The purpose of the drill was to reenact scenarios following lessons learned from last summer's Operation Protective Edge. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers of the Gaza border division take part in a drill on March 22, 2015. The purpose of the drill was to reenact scenarios following lessons learned from last summer's Operation Protective Edge. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The Israeli army was holding a military exercise in areas near the Gaza Strip Sunday afternoon, hours after the region saw the second cross-border exchange with Palestinians in under a week.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the drill, in the western Negev and the city of Sderot, was unconnected to a recent rise in tensions in the area.

The exercise will see in increase in cars, armored vehicles and troops on the move in those areas, the IDF said.

The army said the drill was a pre-planned part of yearly training exercises, and that its purpose was to maintain military preparedness.

Earlier Sunday morning, Israeli jets struck targets in the Gaza Strip, hours after a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in southern Israel.

In an apparent punitive measure, army officials said that the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into the Strip would be closed.

The rocket fire from Gaza was claimed by a small Salafist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group. The Omar Brigades also claimed responsibility for rocket fire into Israel on Wednesday.

A week earlier, a Grad rocket was shot into Israel, landing near the town of Gan Yavneh, some 40 kilometers from the Strip. That rocket was attributed to internal fighting within the Islamic Jihad terror group.

None of the rockets caused any injuries or damage.

Israel and Hamas, the de facto rulers of Gaza, have maintained a tense ceasefire since ending a 50-day war over the summer. However, the uptick in rocket fire over the last weeks has raised tensions in Israel, with some calling for a more forceful Israeli response.

On Saturday, MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), a former head of a regional council bordering Gaza, called for an emergency meeting to discuss a response to the rocket fire.

On Friday, the IDF deployed at least two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in southern Israel, two days after three rockets were launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

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