‘Cement for rebuilding Gaza diverted to terror tunnels’

Hamas bolstering its capabilities and coming up with new strategies in the wake of the war, reports say

A tunnel found in the northern Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Forces, August 3, 2014. (IDF spokesperson/Flash90)
A tunnel found in the northern Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Forces, August 3, 2014. (IDF spokesperson/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group has been redoubling its efforts to restore the cross-border offensive tunnels that were destroyed by Israel during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported Friday morning.

According to the reports, some of the cement and other materials being delivered to the coastal Palestinian territory, as part of an international rebuilding effort, has been diverted to the tunnels.

Hamas has realized that the tunnels, which were used to stage attacks on Israeli military targets during the war, provide it with a psychological edge over residents of Israeli border towns in the area, Israel Radio reported in an unsourced report.

However, military sources told The Times of Israel on Friday that Hamas was being careful not to divert cement that is being supplied to the Strip for rebuilding. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Gaza group has also begun restocking its depleted rocket arsenal, the Hebrew media reports said. Some rockets are imported through smuggling tunnels from Egypt and others are manufactured in the Strip. Many of the smuggling tunnels — one of Hamas’s main sources of revenue — were still open for business, despite massive efforts by Egypt to crack down on them.

According to the reports, Hamas has acknowledged the limited efficacy of its mid- and longer-range rockets, many of which were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system during the war, inflicting very limited civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Hamas has recognized the deadliness of mortar shells, which fall short of Iron Dome’s range.

One new approach that Hamas has been considering in an effort to extend its effective range is to launch large volleys of rockets that would challenge Iron Dome’s ability to fire interceptors in rapid succession, the reports said. It has also been conducting tests, lobbing dozens of rockets into the Mediterranean Sea in recent weeks, according to Ynet, which cited Palestinian Gaza sources in its report.

In October, a Vanity Fair report confirmed rumors that before the summer’s war, Hamas was planning to insert hundreds of terrorists into Israel via underground tunnels, to kidnap and kill a large number of Israelis.

Also in October, a reporter for Hamas’s Al-Rasalah newspaper joined a team of tunnel diggers on the Gaza Strip border with Israel. The diggers, whom he described as “bees in a hive,” said they were motivated by the belief that “every inch they dig helps spill the blood of an Israeli soldier or kidnap one.”

Israel launched a ground incursion in the Gaza Strip on July 17, nine days into the war, in order to destroy dozens of tunnels dug for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers or carrying out large-scale attacks against targets along the Israeli border. That same day, Israel intercepted 13 Hamas operatives who had entered the country through a tunnel, emerging near Kibbutz Sufa.

By the end of the war in Gaza — dubbed Operation Protective Edge by Israel — on August 26, the IDF claimed to have destroyed all 31 known tunnels leading into Israel, but senior officers admitted that “one or two” tunnels could have gone undetected.

The latest conflict in Gaza was the most ruinous of three recent wars, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, according to UN figures, which said most of them were civilians. Another 11,000 were wounded, and some 100,000 people remain homeless. Israel says some 1,000 of the fatalities were Hamas operatives and other gunmen, and blames Hamas for all civilian casualties, arguing that the group attacked Israel from within residential areas.

Hamas and other terror groups fired over 4,500 rockets and projectiles at Israel, and staged several deadly attacks against IDF soldiers through cross-border tunnels. Seventy-two Israelis were killed throughout the operation.

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