Hamas reconstructing damaged Gaza attack tunnel

Al-Qassam Brigades used a humanitarian ceasefire during Operation Protective Edge to start digging, commander admits

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Tunnel workers taking time off to pray on the Gaza side of Rafah. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Tunnel workers taking time off to pray on the Gaza side of Rafah. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Hamas’s armed wing is reconstructing an attack tunnel damaged by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the movement’s newspaper reported on Sunday, admitting that renovation work was carried out on the tunnel under the protection of a humanitarian ceasefire during the operation.

A reporter for Al-Resalah joined a team of tunnel diggers on the Gaza Strip border with Israel, but was not allowed to enter the tunnel for fear that it would collapse. 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.”

The diggers assembled at the entrance to the tunnel at sunset, and told the reporter that breathing was difficult once underground. “We thank God for making us soldiers specializing in tunnel digging,” one operative told the daily. “True, the work is difficult, but we remember our reward with God and it becomes easier.”

Israel launched a ground incursion in the Gaza Strip on July 17, nine days into Operation Protective Edge, in order to destroy dozens of tunnels dug for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers or carrying out a 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, 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.

Ban Ki-moon touring a Hamas-built tunnel in southern Israel on October 14, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/Flash90/GPO)
Ban Ki-moon touring a Hamas-built tunnel in southern Israel on October 14, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/Flash90/GPO)

During a tour of an exposed tunnel last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by the tunnels used for the infiltration of terrorists,” but fell short of calling for Hamas’s disarmament.

Indeed, a spokesman for Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades indicated during a rally in Gaza on October 9 that Hamas still maintains its offensive tunneling capabilities, calling on young men to join the ranks of Hamas’s fighters.

“The men of Al-Qassam are fine; the weapons of Al-Qassam are fine; the tunnels of Al-Qassam are fine, thank God,” he said. “Our men will begin the next battle with their feet on the ground of Nahal Oz … and the other settlements on Gaza’s periphery.”

Abu Khaled, the commander of Hamas’s digging team, told Al-Resalah that construction of the tunnel began a few years ago, but was halted a number of times “due to the difficult security situation.” He said that the tunnel was bombed by the IDF after a group of Hamas fighters was detected leaving it in order to attack an IDF patrol, but was rehabilitated “during one of the humanitarian ceasefires reached during the war.”

One fighter said that he and his colleagues had spent 12 days in the tunnel and wrote on its wall: “We wish to either be martyred underground or win aboveground.”

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