Israel fires tank shell at Hamas post after suspects infiltrate Gaza border
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Israel fires tank shell at Hamas post after suspects infiltrate Gaza border

Palestinians flee back into Strip, no reported casualties. Incident is first violence since Hamas announced ceasefire overnight; Israelis return to normal life after latest flareup

A picture taken on July 20, 2018, from across the border with the Gaza strip near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, shows a smoke plume rising from an explosion during Israeli bombardment in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
A picture taken on July 20, 2018, from across the border with the Gaza strip near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, shows a smoke plume rising from an explosion during Israeli bombardment in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

The IDF fired a tank shell at a Hamas post Saturday morning after several Palestinian suspects attempted to infiltrate the border into Israel in the northern Gaza Strip, the military said.

The suspects returned to the enclave, according to the army. There were no reports of Palestinian casualties.

The incident was the first breach of the ceasefire announced by Hamas at midnight, following widespread Israeli airstrikes Friday after a soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

Israel has not officially confirmed that a truce is in effect, though it appears to have taken the position of halting strikes as long as Gazans stop attacks and provocations.

An IDF tank is seen near the border with Gaza on April 13, 2018 (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

After a security assessment, residents in the Gaza periphery were told they could return to their normal lives on Saturday morning.

“There are no particular restrictions on the Home Front,” the army said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum tweeted overnight: “With Egyptian and UN efforts, [an agreement] was reached to return to the previous situation of ceasefire between the occupation and Palestinian factions.”

On Friday, a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border — the first fatality Israel has sustained on the Gaza front in four years — and Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters. Four Palestinians were said killed. Hamas said three were its members.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows a fireball exploding in Gaza City during Israeli strikes (AFP PHOTO / BASHAR TALEB)

Details of the soldier’s death were withheld for several hours until the soldier’s family were notified. His name was not immediately published.

The Israeli military said its subsequent attacks “delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’s training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure.”

Watch IDF footage of Friday strikes on Gaza

Following the attacks, rocket warning sirens wailed in communities around Gaza. At least two projectiles were launched and intercepted by the Iron Dome system and another fell in an open field, the army said. There were no reports of projectiles falling in Israeli communities or of any injuries.

Israelis living close to the Gaza border were told to stay close to bomb shelters, and not to attend synagogues for Friday evening prayers in larger numbers than could be accommodated in protected rooms should rocket attacks come.

Israel’s top leadership convened late into the night Friday at military headquarters to discuss potential actions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott seen during an emergency meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, on July 20, 2018 (Ministry of Defense/Ariel Hermoni)

The IDF’s chief spokesman Ronen Manelis did not rule out a major ground offensive, but said the IDF was not looking to enter a full-scale conflict. Nonetheless, the fire on the troops at the border was “the most serious incident” since the 2014 conflict, Manelis said, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had spent the years since then ensuring that the army was ready for “whatever response is necessary.”

The soldier was killed during Friday’s weekly riots along the border.

“Hamas terrorists opened fire today on Israelis. Those are not ‘protesters,'” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon wrote on Twitter. “We will not tolerate attacks endangering Israelis. Under no circumstance.”

Reports said Israeli special forces had been stationed near border communities to prevent possible Hamas attacks through attack tunnels dug into Israel.

Protesters try to throw back teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops near the fence of the Gaza Strip border with Israel, during a protest east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, July 20, 2018 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Manelis said Hamas had spent the past three-and-a-half months carrying out acts of terrorism during mass demonstrations at the border, firing rockets and mortar shells into Israel, and launching arson kites and balloons. Israel had tried to convey to terror chiefs that Jerusalem “means business” in demanding that the terrorism stop, but Hamas evidently had not got the message, Manelis told Hadashot TV news.

Manelis noted that the IDF carried out a major drill this week, including simulating a ground incursion to retake control of Gaza, from where Israel withdrew in 2005. Asked whether that was a likely scenario, Manelis said it would be more sensible to first wait for the completion of the current military action “over the next few hours.”

He noted that Israel had deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the south and center of the country, and said the IDF was prepared “for all scenarios.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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