Palestinian groups in Gaza launch rockets into the Mediterranean Sea at the start of what they called their "first-ever joint exercise."

A rocket is launched by Palestinian factions into the Mediterranean Sea off Gaza at the start of their first-ever joint exercise, in Gaza City on December 29, 2020.
A rocket is launched by Palestinian factions into the Mediterranean Sea off Gaza at the start of their first-ever joint exercise, in Gaza City on December 29, 2020. (Reuters)

Palestinian factions have staged military exercises in blockaded Gaza, including firing rockets into the sea, to mark the anniversary of the start of the 2008 conflict with Israel.

The demonstrations on Tuesday were organised under Gaza's Joint Command Room, which is made up of roughly a dozen groups, including Hamas, that govern the Palestinian enclave.

Senior Hamas official Mushir al Masri said in a statement that the drills proved Palestinians in Gaza had missiles capable of hitting Israel "in any coming battle."

In addition to the volley of rockets fired into the Mediterranean Sea from platforms southwest of Gaza City, Palestinians simulated various combat scenarios with Israeli troops, according to AFP news agency.

All armed wings of the Gaza-based factions took part in the drill, except the military arm of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

READ MORE: Israeli tanks shell Hamas positions in blockaded Gaza

Israeli 'strikes' on Gaza hospital

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the latter rose to power in Gaza.

The first came in December 2008, when Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

It ended with a ceasefire in January 2009, after 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

Tuesday's exercise, the first of its kind, will "strengthen the skills of combatants" and demonstrate the "unity" of Gaza's fighters, said the Al Quds Brigade spokesman.

The exercises came days after Hamas accused Israel of launching strikes that damaged a children's hospital.

Israel, which said it carried out the weekend air strikes, denied that its missiles hit the hospital.

Unified force?

Gaza military affairs expert Ibrahim Habib told AFP news agency that Hamas's military wing, the Qassam Brigade, wants to create more cohesion among Gaza-based fighters, but that the success of that effort is not guaranteed.

Different groups would have to merge to form "the nucleus of a Palestinian army," Habib said.

Before the exercises, Hamas' Interior Ministry blocked access to the sea for civilians and closed a main road running the length of the strip.

According to Israeli and Palestinian media, Israel's army raised its alert level ahead of the drills.

The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

READ MORE: Israel bombs Gaza as Hamas warns of escalation after Arab deals

Shaky ceasefire 

A fragile truce has broadly held in Gaza in recent years, despite flareups involving rocket fire from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

Poverty rates in the densely populated strip, which hovered around 50 percent before the novel coronavirus pandemic, are thought to have increased since Hamas imposed lockdown measures to limit transmission. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies