Israel says destroys attack tunnel from Gaza
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel blew up what it said was a tunnel being dug across the Gaza Strip border by Palestinian militants on Monday and warned the enclave’s Hamas Islamists that while it sought no escalation, it was ready to respond if attacked.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in public remarks to legislators of his right-wing Likud party, credited “groundbreaking technology” for the tunnel’s discovery. He gave no details.
Israel has been constructing a sensor-equipped anti-tunnel underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile)-long Gaza border, aiming to complete the $1.1 billion project by mid-2019.
During the last Gaza war, in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces and threaten civilian communities near the frontier, a counterpoint to the Iron Dome anti-missile system that largely protected the country’s heartland from militants’ rocket barrages.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the tunnel destroyed on Monday was in the process of being dug from the Gaza town of Khan Younis across the border, where it was blown up.
Asked by reporters if Hamas, rather than another armed faction, had dug it, Conricus said: “I cannot confirm that.”
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) does not intend to escalate the situation but stands prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Conricus said. “The working assumption is that this is not the only tunnel that Palestinian terrorist organisations are trying to dig.”
Hamas officials in Gaza had no immediate comment. Paltoday, a website that supports the Islamic Jihad group, said the tunnel belonged to that militant movement’s armed wing.
“We see Hamas as being responsible for any attempt emanating from its territory, and carried out by people who are under its authority, to impinge on our sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the Likud lawmakers, stopping short of accusing it directly of digging the tunnel.
Hamas reached a reconciliation deal with Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority earlier this month, a decade after Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a brief civil war.
Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the pact so Israeli peace efforts with Abbas, which collapsed in 2014, could proceed. Hamas has rejected the demand.
On Saturday, the main U.N. welfare agency for Palestinians said it had discovered “what appeared to be a tunnel” underneath one of its schools in Gaza on Oct 15 and had sealed the cavity.
The agency, UNRWA, condemned the apparent violation of its sovereignty but did not specify who might have dug the tunnel.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)