Five Hamas members were reportedly injured and an unknown number more missing after a tunnel they were digging in the Gaza Strip collapsed overnight Saturday.
Palestinian news website Al-Quds reported the cave-in happened in the Zitan neighborhood, southeast of Gaza City, the latest in a series of collapses over recent months that have killed nearly a dozen Palestinians.
Searches were made for other diggers believed to be trapped under the collapse.
Hamas officials did not confirm the reports.
The five injured tunnelers were taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, according to al-Quds.
Israelis fear the tunnels being dug are preparations for attacks inside Israel, and last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said progress had been made toward finding a way to thwart them, though he did not give details.
The past months have seen at least five separate tunnel collapses in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian reports, and about 11 deaths of Hamas tunnelers.
Some have speculated the collapses were due to winter rains. The region saw heavy downpours early last week, though dry conditions have prevailed since Wednesday.
Asked about the series of collapses in early February, IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Defense Ministry body that coordinates with Palestinians, refused to say whether Israel was causing the cave-ins.
“God knows,” he said, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. “I would suggest the residents of the Gaza Strip not to occupy themselves with the tunnels and to get away from them, especially after seeing the results in recent days,” he added.
The comments came against the background of rising complaints from residents of southern Israel, who claim to hear and feel Hamas tunneling beneath their communities.
Hamas leaders have bragged recently that the attack tunnels, some 30 of which were destroyed by Israel in the 50-day war of summer 2014, have been rebuilt and again stretch into Israel.
Earlier this month, Channel 2 news reported that Israel has spent over NIS 1 billion ($250 million) since 2004 trying to thwart Hamas tunneling under the Israel-Gaza border.
The money has gone toward developing technology to discover the locations of such tunnels and unspecified “operational efforts,” the report said and quoted Israeli military sources saying the effort to counter Hamas’s under-border tunneling was a “central” priority for the IDF.
But Sunday morning, Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev said the government was not doing enough to counter the threat of cross-border terror tunnels.
“There must be a clearly declared and more offensive policy regarding Gaza,” Bar Lev told Channel 10 news.
He also accused the government of slipping into the same routine it held before the 2014 conflict with Hamas-led groups in the coastal enclave.
“Today, every boy and girl in the Gaza border region communities knows that Israel was aware (on the eve of the 2014 conflict) of more than 10 tunnels that crossed into its territory (but nothing was done),” he said. “This must be dealt with.”