Gazan man killed in Islamic Jihad tunnel collapse

Several others injured as underground passage, reportedly reaching into Israel, gives way in northern region of coastal enclave

A tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israel, seen in a photo released by the IDF on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israel, seen in a photo released by the IDF on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

At least one Palestinian was killed when a tunnel under the border with Israel collapsed in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, an official in the Strip said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said the accident occurred while work was going on in a “military tunnel” used by the Islamic Jihad terror group.

It said Ahmed Mayyat was killed and three others were injured.

Mayyat was a local contractor hired by the Islamic Jihad to remove a bomb from the tunnel, the group said.

Local media reported he also worked for several international aid organizations in Gaza on a freelance basis.

There were conflicting reports on the number of fatalities in the incident. The Maan News Agency reported one person was killed and several were seriously injured. Israel’s Channel 2 reported that three Palestinian diggers died in the cave-in.

According to the Palestinian news agency Maan, the tunnel ran beneath the border between the coastal enclave and Israel, near Beit Hanoun, in the north of the Strip.

Israel says Gaza is crisscrossed with a wide network of tunnels, most of them dug by Hamas which rules the Strip, and some of which reach into Israeli territory.

The collapse is the latest in a series of cave-ins to claim Palestinian lives over the past year. Israeli military officials have refused to say whether they are causing the collapses.

Israel is working on a massive underground barrier that it hopes will prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group, from burrowing under the border and into Israel.

On Sunday, a senior IDF official said the underground barrier would be completed within months.

The Southern Command official said that the structure will include a wall deep below the ground as well as a fence above ground. Some parts of the roughly 60-kilometer (40-mile) border will also be flooded.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing regulations, said the goal is to turn the underground network into a “death trap” for Hamas.

“We’re putting a lot of effort into that,” he said.

During the 2014 war in the Strip, Hamas terrorists managed on several occasions to make their way into Israel through a tunnel network.

Israel destroyed some 32 tunnels during that conflict. The official said the military is investing great efforts to stop the threat.

Earlier this year, the IDF uncovered two tunnels that crossed into Israeli territory from Gaza, the first such discoveries since the end of the 2014 conflict.

One tunnel discovered in April ran at a depth of approximately 30-40 meters (100 feet) below ground, extending dozens of meters inside Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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