IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot awarded a letter of commendation to the army’s Gaza Division on Wednesday, citing the unit’s ongoing skirmishes with Palestinians along the border and its efforts to find and destroy tunnels dug by terror groups into Israeli territory.
“For the past seven months, the division has been working day in and day out to prevent mass breaches of the fence and serious terror attacks,” Eisenkot said at the award ceremony at the Gaza Division’s headquarters in Reim, near the Gaza border.
“The division is working every hour of the day, on holidays and workdays, while preserving the normal daily lives of residents of the communities in the Gaza periphery,” he said.
The military noted that in the past two years, the division has uncovered 15 tunnels and is leading the project to build an above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip in order to prevent further tunneling into Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups.
“The Gaza Division is dealing with a variety of threats, against which it stands strong, while showing determination, creativity and wisdom. It is working night and day to defend the residents of the south,” the army said in a statement.
However, the focus of Lt. Gen. Eisenkot’s praise for the unit was on its handling of the regular border violence, in which Palestinians have thrown explosives and rocks at IDF troops, attempted to breach the security fence, and launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, setting fire to thousands of acres of land.
“In the past six months, you have dealt with terror attacks, attempts to violate [Israeli] sovereignty and various terrorist activities under the guise of civilian protests involving women, children and the elderly,” Eisenkot said during the ceremony.
“You have stood up to it professionally, firmly and very ethically in a complicated situation,” he said.
In his speech, Eisenkot mourned the division’s sole fatality since the 2014 Gaza war, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, who was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper during a border riot this summer.
“But we, as the IDF, do not have the privilege of growing weary, but must keep acting,” he said.
The chief of staff also praised Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who has served as commander of the Gaza Division for over two years and is due to end his tenure shortly.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my great appreciation for you, Yehuda, for your dedication, professionalism, determination, initiative and leadership, which deserves to be recognized — all of this in a highly complicated situation,” Eisenkot said.
Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.
However, in recent weeks, as the talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel to daily events, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence, including during nighttime and early morning hours.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was working to prevent another round of violence in the Gaza Strip, but would not tolerate the situation continuing and was prepared to go to war to stop it.
“We are trying to find a solution that will bring back the calm and security to residents of the Gaza periphery,” he said.
“I think [Hamas] understands that another outbreak of violence would exact a very high price from the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu said.
At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.