A member of Hamas’s military wing was reportedly killed Sunday in a tunnel collapse near Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
Reports in Palestinian media identified the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades member as Thaer Nayef al-Zaraie.
It was not immediately clear if the tunnel was an attack tunnel crossing the border into Israel or part of the warren of defensive fortifications Hamas has built across the Strip.
Several members of the Hamas terrorist group have been killed or injured in accidental blasts and tunnel collapses in recent years. In 2017, Hamas said 22 members of its armed wing were killed in tunnel-related accidents.
Earlier this month, Israel announced that it had destroyed the “longest and deepest” underground passage leading into Israel from Gaza that it had discovered so far.
The tunnel reached “tens of meters” into Israeli territory in the area of the northern Gaza Strip, close to the Israeli community of Nahal Oz, according to the army, and was constructed after the 50-day 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Following the discovery, the Israeli army released a video, showcasing the new, special “laboratory” it had established for locating cross-border tunnels dug from the Hamas-run coastal enclave into Israel.
Sunday’s tunnel collapse comes amid tensions along the Israel-Gaza in recent weeks — with the Palestinians holding mass protests near the security fence for the last four consecutive weekends. Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Hamas, which it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests.
On Friday, some 3,000 Palestinians protested along the Gaza border with Israel, burning tires and flying flaming kites across the frontier to set Israeli fields ablaze, witnesses and the army said. Soldiers responded with tear gas and live fire, killing four Gazans including a teenage boy, according to the Hamas run-health ministry.
The army says Hamas has been encouraging the protests as cover for attempts to damage and breach the border fence. It said the teenager who was killed was trying to damage the fence.
These brought to 39 the number of fatalities from the border demonstrations and clashes dubbed the March of Return, according to the health ministry figures. The numbers could not be verified by Israel.
The Palestinian Authority said Friday it would ask the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission to carry out an independent investigation of the Israeli military’s killing and wounding of Palestinians during protests in Gaza.