Outgoing Gaza Division chief: Hamas in control of Gaza border violence
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Outgoing Gaza Division chief: Hamas in control of Gaza border violence

Southern Command head says terror group that rules the territory is ‘deterred,’ but still looking for a way to attack Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, right, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the IDF Southern Command, center, and Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano at a ceremony to install the latter as the new head of the IDF's Gaza Division, October 24, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson)
Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, right, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the IDF Southern Command, center, and Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano at a ceremony to install the latter as the new head of the IDF's Gaza Division, October 24, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson)

The outgoing head of the Israeli army’s Gaza Division on Wednesday accused the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, of stealing the majority of the goods entering the coastal enclave for its own military purposes, rather than for the benefit of the local population.

“Most of the resources entering the Gaza Strip go toward digging tunnels and manufacturing rockets. Hamas digs into the earth and in doing so curses the land from which orchards could bloom,” said Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs.

He made his remarks during a ceremony marking the end of his tenure as the head of the Gaza Division and Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano’s assumption of the role.

Fuchs, who served in the position since 2016, said Hamas also “dictates the level of violence along the border,” referring to the regular clashes and riots that take place along the security fence surrounding the coastal enclave.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the Southern Command, which contains the Gaza Division, said Hamas is deterred from attacking Israel properly and is therefore searching for any way to harm the Jewish state.

“This period is a complicated one. Our advancements, our developments and our advantages over our enemy are clear and palpable. The enemy is deterred and the people are desperate, looking in every way under the ground and above it to harm our nation,” Halevi said.

Earlier this month, the Gaza Division under Fuchs was awarded a letter of commendation from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot for its performance in clashes with Palestinians along the border and its efforts to preempt, find and destroy tunnels dug by terror groups into Israeli territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with his military secretary, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, on his way to a visit in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank on November 23, 2015, following a spate of terror attacks in the area. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Fuchs’s replacement vowed to work day and night to defend the Gaza border. For the past three years, Toledano has served as military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I swear that as I sleep and as I awake, I will do everything in my capacity to fulfill the mission. The division’s forces will stand as an iron wall in unbending defense of our citizens and as a steel fist at the ready to attack those who come to do evil,” Toledano said.

“No one will stop us from continuing to build our national home,” he added.

Last Wednesday, a rocket launched from the Strip exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing damage, but not injuries, and sparking a flareup between Israel and Hamas. An escalation into all-out war seemed likely, until third-party negotiators brokered a de facto ceasefire between the two sides.

The past week saw a significant decrease in the amount of violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, both in terms of the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.

Following the relative calm, a supply of Qatari-purchased fuel entered the Gaza Strip for the first time in a week on Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office announced the fuel would be allowed into the Strip. It had been kept out for a week, following the clash between Israel and Hamas.

The defense minister had also ordered the Erez pedestrian crossing and Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed last Wednesday, after the rocket seriously damaged the Beersheba home and another landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area.

Israel reopened the Gaza crossings on Sunday, allowing people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli defense officials described last Friday’s demonstrations as some of the quietest days since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes, and was working toward curbing violence at the rallies, which have become a near-daily occurrence, Hadashot TV news reported Friday.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 157 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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