The Israeli military announced on Friday that it had uncovered a tunnel from Gaza into Israel meant for carrying out a terror attack.
IDF officials said the tunnel, uncovered on Tuesday, reached hundreds of meters inside Israel, “near civilian communities,” and went as deep as dozens of meters underground. Army sources quoted by Channel 2 TV news said Hamas had intended to use the tunnel to send “large armed force” into Israel to carry out kidnapping and/or terror attacks.
The sources indicated that the army believed further such tunnels were being dug under the border.
An IDF official said the tunnel was one of the largest, if not the largest, yet discovered, adding that the army still did not know how far it went.
“This advanced tunnel was intended to pose a direct link and threat to Israeli territory, and enable Hamas terrorists to reach and harm Israeli civilians,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement.
He too said that the tunnel could be used in a terror attack or a kidnapping attempt.
The army said the investigation of the tunnel was ongoing.
In a separate statement the IDF said the tunnel represented an effort to undermine Israeli sovereignty and that it violated the ceasefire brokered with Hamas after 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza.
The army official said a generator and other tools had been found in the tunnel, attesting to the fact that work had been done on it recently.
Preempting the IDF announcement, Hamas Thursday night had said the IDF had found an “old” tunnel already blown up by the army that the terror group had begun to repair. At a press conference, the group’s Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing said a winter storm had exposed the tunnel, and not the IDF.
But Sami Turgeman, the IDF’s southern command chief, said the tunnel was still being expanded when it was found, and that there was evidence of work being done on it within the last few days.
The army has accused Hamas of digging “terror tunnels” out of Gaza in the past, including three discovered in 2013.
In October, the army said it found two tunnels dug by Hamas to use for terror attacks, including a heavily fortified passageway that reached close to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.
Brig. Gen. Michael Edelstein, the commander of the Gaza Division, called that tunnel, which was supported by over 500 tons of cement arches, “extremely advanced and well prepared” and said it was “intended for terror in the vicinity of civilian communities.” Hamas operatives built the tunnel over the course of a year, Edelstein said, and in so doing committed an “extreme violation” of the post-Operation Pillar of Defense ceasefire.
The discovery led Israel to cut off cement supplies to Gaza for several months.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.