In honor of the new school year and in a show of solidarity to embattled residents of southern Israel, senior government officials toured schools and educational institutions throughout the Negev.
Among them, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the city of Sderot, together with Education Minister Shai Piron, to open a new religious high school.
During the visit, the prime minister promised students and teachers alike that the government would provide them with both "knowledge and security," and praised the children's "thirst for knowledge".
"This is what distinguishes us from the animals. We are the people of the book: on one hand we cling to our heritage and on the other we grasp the future," he said, according to Channel Two, emphasizing the importance of both Torah study and secular education embodied by the religious-Zionist movement.
Education Minister Shai Piron offered words of strength and encouragement to the children, all of whom spent their summer vacation running to bomb shelters due to the ceaseless rocket attacks against their town.
"Today we begin to teach a future prime minister, a future doctor, a future IDF Chief of Staff!" he declared.
For over a decade, Sderot has endured the brunt of rocket fire from Gazan terrorists, and residents there have just 15 seconds to find shelter after air raid sirens sound due to its close proximity to the Hamas-ruled enclave.
According to some statistics over 50% of children in Sderot suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a childhood under fire.
Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who has voiced sharp criticism of the government for failing to the secure his city, struck a hopeful note, and thanked the prime minister for his support of the city.
"We won a great military and civilian victory," he said, invoking the steadfastness of the southern region's population in the face of attacks and referring to the children as "warriors."
"With God's help we are sure that it will lead us to a better future."
Other government ministers also made the rounds, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who visited an elementary school in the Sha'ar HaNegev region bordering Gaza. Sha'ar HaNegev was also particularly badly hit by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza; among the casualties was four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, who was killed by a mortar shell in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
President Reuven Rivlin visited several schools, including a special school for children suffering from cancer, and the Yitzhak Sadeh elementary school in the southern city of Dimona.
Earlier in the day, Rivlin relayed a message to the 164,999 teachers who begin the school year, together with 2,105,394 students.
"Every one of you commands a class of 40 opinionated and lively children. You are fighting for values, for principles. You are fighting on behalf of our home, and for us to be able to live in it together.
Residents of the village of Netiv Ha'asarah along the border with Gaza were met with a nasty surprise last night, when they noticed that IDF soldiers stationed to protect the community during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge had disappeared.
Troops from the Nahal infantry brigade had been withdrawn without a word to the community, which still feels vulnerable despite the destruction of over 30 "terror tunnels" dug by Hamas in preparation for attacks on that community among others.
According to Channel Two, no alternative security force had been moved in to replace them, leaving the community feeling exposed.
That sense of vulnerability is not surprising: carefully-worded statements by military and political officials alike following the IDF's ground operation to locate and destroy the tunnels said that the military had destroyed all the tunnels it knew about - but the possibility of unknown tunnels has not been discounted.
But a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, disputed claims of abandonment, saying that a force of Givati Brigade soldiers was still stationed nearby.
The chairwoman of the local regional council, Penina Rogolski, said the IDF was looking into the reports.
"It appears that the senior commanders don't know what's going on there. They promised us that there would be a force there all the time inside the community and there isn't anyone there. What is this? How could this happen? This is a serious error," she said.
Rogolski dismissed claims that there were still soldiers stationed outside the community.
"There is nothing of the sort. Outside of the community is (only) Gaza - at the moment they aren't protecting us."
A Saudi-born Islamic State fighter was reportedly among those killed by Israel in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, according to reports in the Arab media, highlighting the worrying presence of IS (or ISIS) networks inside the Hamas-controlled territory.
The pan-Arab Al Hayat news outlet published a picture of the man, named as Sultan Farhan Rajah Harbi, but who also went under several nom de guerre, including Khaled al-Jazrawi.
His resume boasts an impressive list of jihadi battlefields.
Prior to Gaza, Harbi started in the Al Qaeda badlands of Yemen, from where he moved on to Somalia, where Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab terrorists are battling government and African Union forces. From Somalia he traveled to Libya, which is currently the scene of an ongoing struggle between Islamist and secular forces, and from there made his way to Turkey - a popular transit route for would-be jihadis to join the Syrian civil war.
However, Al Hayat claims he left Syria after only two months fighting for the Islamic State - formerly known as ISIS - having become disillusioned with the bloody infighting between rival rebel groups, which has been eagerly capitalized upon by the Assad regime.
The Islamic State has been responsible for much of that infighting in its bloody quest to monopolize power in areas under its control. It has clashed with practically every rebel faction, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, after ISIS officially broke away from Al Qaeda last year.
Harbi reportedly crossed back into Turkey and headed for Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic State and Al Qaeda-liked jihadists hare engaged in a low-level insurgency with the Egyptian military. Last week, the largest such group - Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis - released grisly footage of the beheading of four men it said were informants.
Harbi then crossed into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip via the vast network of tunnels under the Egyptian border, in time for the initial stages of this summer's military operation.
Upon his arrival in Gaza, the veteran jihadi assumed the name "Salamah". He suffered light shrapnel wounds to his head and leg during first days of fighting, which saw heavy Israeli Air Force strikes on terrorist targets.
Despite those injuries he carried on fighting alongside Gazan Islamist terrorists, before eventually being eliminated last Monday, not long before the operation ended with a controversial ceasefire.
Harbi appears to have been killed in a missile attack on a car in the Shajaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza, which was the scene of some of the most intense fighting between the IDF and Gazan terrorists.
His family expressed "surprise" at news of his death in Gaza, who they said they hadn't heard from for a long time, but confirmed they had recognized him from pictures circulated online.
The presence of ISIS cells in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula is not a new development.
A number of Gazan Islamists are already known to have traveled to Syria to fight in the ranks of IS, and a spotlight was shone on Islamic State cells actively operating inside Gaza back in June, not long before Operation Protective Edge, when an IAF strike eliminated two terrorists affiliated with the group.
Until now, however, those cells were independently-formed jihadist factions comprised entirely of Palestinian and Egyptian Arabs. Although having sworn loyalty to ISIS - and later to its "Caliphate" or Islamic state - they were operationally independent of it.
The story of a foreign Islamic State fighter traveling to Gaza then is a worrying development. Even though in this case, the man in question left Syria after abandoning IS forces there, his ability to utilize regional Islamist networks to enter Gaza and join the war against Israel will provide serious food for thought for Israeli security analysts.
The Palestinian Authority "unity government" with Hamas is totally bankrupt, according to a leading PA minister, who blamed broken promises by America and Arab states for the dire situation.
"The government's budget is below zero, and it's starting to borrow from banks to move forward, because only less than third of donor funds that were scheduled to be received this year arrived," said Shawki Al-Ayasa, Minister of Social Affairs, Agriculture, and Prisoner's Affairs.
"The US has not provided a single penny since Jan. 1, and Europe and Arab states only provided a third of what they were scheduled to give," he lamented to the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news network
He said Gazan families who had lost their homes as Hamas and other terrorist groups clashed with Israeli forces had received just 300 shekels ($84) in aid.
Al-Ayasa claimed the agricultural sector had suffered some $450 million of damage during Operation Protective Edge, which saw Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular embed their forced deep within the civilian infrastructure, drawing criticism over the blatant violation of international law.
He further estimated it would take around two years to rebuild Gaza, assuming construction material could be delivered at a "reasonable" rate.
PA president and head of the Fatah faction Mahmoud Abbas signed a high-profile unity deal with the Islamist Hamas movement in June, as part of a string of unilateral moves which helped torpedo talks with Israel.
The two factions have been at loggerheads ever since Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 Gaza elections, and then began a bloody purge of Fatah party members which triggered prolonged and deadly clashes between rival terrorist militias.
Several "unity deals" have been signed since in an attempt at reconciliation, only to collapse shortly after.
This latest attempt at reconciliation is similarly coming under increased strain, in particular after it was recently revealed that a Hamas cell in Judea and Samaria had planned a coup of its own against the rule of Mahmoud Abbas.
Another reason for growing Hamas-Fatah tension is the simmering discontent in Gaza over some 40,000 Hamas employees who have not been paid their wages for months - while Fatah party functionaries continue to receive theirs even if they hold no official government position under the Hamas regime there.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a PA official claimed the reason for the hold-up was that the PA was wary of handing foreign donors' money to Hamas, which could prompt protests and even the withdrawal of future donations given that the Islamist movement is a proscribed terrorist group in most western countries.
Abbas has also leveled harsh criticism towards Hamas over its conduct since the signing of the deal, including both the terror group's involvement in the kidnap and brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers and its stubbornness in signing a ceasefire deal with Israel.
A mortar shell fired from Syria struck an open area on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights Monday morning, as fighting across the border continued to rage between pro-regime forces and Syrian rebels.
No damage or injuries were reported.
The incident follows the shooting down of a Syrian drone yesterday by IDF forces, after it strayed into Israeli airspace.
The Israeli military fired a Patriot surface-to-air missile at the drone, which IDF sources said belonged to regime forces and had most likely entered Israeli airspace by accident.
Several mortar shells have fallen inside Israeli territory since the launch of a rebel offensive centered around the Syria border city of Quneitra. An alliance of rebel forces, including both the western-backed Harakat Hazm faction and Al Qaeda's Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, drove out Assad regime forces last week, but have been facing a concerted counterattack by Syrian army ground and air forces since.
Last Wednesday morning, six mortar shells careened into Israeli territory from the Quneitra area, lightly-to-moderately wounding an IDF officer and causing damage to several vehicles.
In response to the mortar shells, IDF artillery fired at a Syrian military position.
Later in the day, one Israeli was lightly wounded by tank fire in the area, after a possibly errant shell struck an Israeli community in the region.
Meanwhile, some 45 UN peacekeepers of Fijian nationality are still being held captive by the Nusra Front, after 40 Filipino soldiers made a dramatic escape into Israel.
Efforts are still being made to secure the remaining soldiers' release.
The soldiers were part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been in place along the Israel-Syria border since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home) visited the Mekor Chaim yeshiva high school in Kfar Etzion on Monday, as the school starts a new academic year in the shadow of the brutal kidnapping and murder of two of its students in June.
Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Sha'ar, both 16, were abducted and murdered together with 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah by Hamas terrorists, as they hitchhiked home outside Kfar Etzion, which is located in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem.
Speaking to students and teachers, Bennett noted how the school was at the forefront of "the difficult events" of the past summer, but said they and the Jewish people could draw strength from the fact that from "the abduction, and from there to (Operation) Protective Edge, we presented an Israel united, determined and faithful, even on the battlefield. We must always strive for determination and unity."
He added that the high school's tragic central role in the summer's crises gave the students a special responsibility to lead by example and "perpetuate" that sense of national unity.
MK Muallem - who lost her first husband in a tragic IDF helicopter crash and went on to serve a Chairman of the IDF Widows and Orphans organisation - said the nation as a whole was faced with a choice "Do we focus wretchedly on what happened to us, or, despite the pain, do we choose life and march forward?"
"After that choice we must remember that we are talking about a process - nothing happens quickly. In this process the ultimate goal is clear. We need to look at the day of the kidnapping and see if we are better Jews now."
Bennett spoke to Arutz Sheva outside the school, overlooking the new community of Gvaot which was built in memory of the three murdered teens.
"That's always been the Zionist response to the murder of Jews," he said of the government's decision to permit the building of a new town in their memory. "To build our country, to grow stronger and to look forward."
What do Palestinians think about the Holocaust?
It's a question filmmaker Corey Gil-Shuster asked to random people in Ramallah, the political capital of the Palestinian Authority.
The results were not encouraging.
Respondents typically gave one of three answers. Some did not actually know what it was, or had only a vague idea. The majority, however, either voiced the claim - popular in Arab countries - that the Nazi genocide was exaggerated by Jews for political purposes so that they could do the same to Arabs, or simply said they supported what Hitler had done because, as one smiling woman shared, "Jews are evil".
One of the most remarkable aspects of the interviews was not so much those who expressed their support for the holocaust ("All respect to Hitler!" answered one man), but those who claimed they were experiencing precisely the same levels of brutality as Jews had faced under Nazi persecution, even as they shopped or sat freely smoking in cafes - a far cry from the deprivation and cruelty of European ghettos and concentration camps.
"So where are the concentration camps and the gas chambers?" an astonished Gil-Shuster asked one man, who said that Palestinians were suffering something "close to a holocaust" as he manned a stall brimming with sweets and drinks.
The video was part of a Youtube series called "Ask an Israeli, ask a Palestinian", in which random Israelis and Palestinians are asked their opinions or feelings on a wide variety of topics.