3 Hamas fighters said hurt, 5 missing after Gaza tunnel collapse
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3 Hamas fighters said hurt, 5 missing after Gaza tunnel collapse

Islamist group mum on incident, the 11th of its kind reported since the beginning of 2016

File: Members of Hamas carry the body of Mohamed al-Astal, killed in a tunnel collapse, during his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2016. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)
File: Members of Hamas carry the body of Mohamed al-Astal, killed in a tunnel collapse, during his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2016. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)

At least three Hamas fighters were injured and five were missing after a tunnel collapsed east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday evening.

A local Palestinian news site, however, reported that seven members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were hurt, one seriously and the rest moderately, after the terror tunnel caved in.

The collapsed tunnel was the eleventh reported incident of its kind since the beginning of the year.

Hamas officials and official outlets made no immediate comment on Saturday evening’s incident.

Earlier this week, a tunnel collapse in Gaza killed a commander with Hamas’s military wing on Monday.

A brigades spokesman described the collapse as a “work accident,” the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

The tunnel collapse occurred in the Shejaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City, where some of the most intense fighting of the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza-based fighters took place.

The field commander killed in the collapse was named by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades as Abd al-Salah al-Butnaji, 36.

The collapse came days after another tunnel collapse near Rafah killed two people. Since January 10 tunnels have caved in and 14 people have been killed, according to Hamas figures.

It is not clear what is causing the collapse of the tunnels or what their purpose is. Israeli officials have warned that Hamas has begun rebuilding its network of subterranean tunnels, some of which could extend into Israeli territory and be used for surprise attacks, as they were in 2014.

Jerusalem says it is working on a secret technological solution to the problem. When asked if Israeli forces were causing the tunnel collapses earlier this year, an IDF commander would only say “God knows.”

Egypt has also been working to thwart the construction of smuggling tunnels into the Sinai peninsula by flooding them.

On Thursday, five Palestinians were rescued after an underground passage leading from the southern Gaza town of Rafah into neighboring Egypt fell in. Another two were pulled out dead on Sunday.

That incident was caused by Egyptian flooding of the border zone in its campaign to stop smuggling, an official told AFP.

Israeli officials have linked many of the recent tunnel collapses to Hamas’s shortage of materials such as wood and cement, needed to strengthen walls of sand, according to the Israeli Ynet website.

Hamas has apparently been using fiberglass instead — despite Israel’s prohibition of its entry into the enclave — a material that has proven to be too weak to support the weight of the sand, Israeli sources told the website.

An Israeli blockade designed to keep weapons and other military infrastructure from entering the Strip severely restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the territory, and Egypt’s sole border with Gaza has also remained largely closed since 2013.

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