Hamas tunnel was built to blow up main humanitarian crossing to Gaza — report

Terror tunnel destroyed by IDF ran under gas and diesel pipelines, and below Kerem Shalom, where thousands of tons of food and supplies enter the Strip each day

Palestinian truck drivers wait to cross the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian truck drivers wait to cross the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A Hamas attack tunnel destroyed by the IDF on Saturday was built for a planned attack on the border crossing where most of the humanitarian aid, food and fuel enter the Gaza Strip, Hadashot TV news reported Sunday.

The tunnel, which the army said belonged to the Hamas terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, ran underneath the Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing, as well as below major gas and diesel pipelines, spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters Sunday.

An explosion beneath the area would have caused mass casualties among the hundreds of people who work there every day, as well as massive damage to the facility and the surrounding areas, the TV report said.

The Kerem Shalom Crossing routinely sees hundreds of trucks transporting medicine, food and drink into the Gaza Strip each day and acts as a major source of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered coastal enclave, which is subject to a blockade by both Israel and Egypt. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent terror group Hamas from importing weaponry.

The IDF destroyed the tunnel on Saturday night, describing its running under the border crossing as both “cynical” and “absurd.”

Hadashot’s military and security correspondent, Roni Daniel, said that the terror group viewed the crossing as part of “normal” life, and it would prefer its citizens to suffer than for them to have some kind of normal existence.

He also said that this was the second time Hamas had tried to destroy a border crossing. In 2007, when the terror group seized control of Gaza, it burned down the industrial area near the Erez crossing into Israel.

The army denied the claim, made by Hamas late Saturday night, that the Israeli jets had targeted a smuggling tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

“We know it’s a terror tunnel because it passes under different strategic assets,” Conricus said, referring to its proximity to the fuel pipelines into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom Crossing and a military installation nearby.

According to IDF figures, in 2017, over half a million tons of food entered the Strip through Kerem Shalom, along with 3.3 million tons of construction equipment and 12,000 tons of agricultural equipment.

This was the third tunnel destroyed in recent months, and it penetrated hundreds of meters into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, the IDF said. It was destroyed in an airstrike in southern Gaza.

“We completed the destruction of a third terror tunnel,” spokesperson Conricus told reporters early Sunday morning, denying claims made by Hamas that it was a smuggling tunnel.

“We understand this tunnel belongs to Hamas,” Conricus added, saying the military believed the terror group saw it as a “significant asset.”

An attack tunnel that was bombed by Israeli jets on January 13, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This is a severe breach of Israel’s sovereignty, a serious threat to Israeli civilians and a threat to the humanitarian efforts that Israel allows for the people in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.

The army spokesperson credited the discovery and destruction of the tunnel to a combination of “cutting-edge” technology and intelligence.

An IDF general on Sunday said the Israeli military had devised a solution that would see all of Hamas’s cross-border tunnels into Israel destroyed.

Speaking in Arabic to US-based satellite TV station Alhurra, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that “the Israeli genius along with the Jewish brain have come up with a solution to all of the terrorists’ tunnels.”

“Just like there’s ‘Iron Dome’ for the air, there’s a technological umbrella of steel underground,” he said. “I want to send a message to everyone who is digging or gets too close to the tunnels: As you’ve seen in the past two months, these tunnels bring only death,” he added according to translations of the interview.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot made the destruction of Palestinian terror groups’ attack tunnel a top priority for the military, following the 2014 Gaza war, which saw extensive use of tunnels by the Hamas terrorist group.

Over the past year, the army has been constructing an underground barrier around the Gaza Strip that is meant to block attempts to dig into Israel.

Military officials have noted that more tunnels will likely be destroyed in coming months as the barrier nears completion.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, visits an attack tunnel dug by a Palestinian terrorist group from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel during a visit to the area on December 20, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The army spokesperson denied earlier reports in Hebrew media that the jets had targeted a shipment of long-range missiles into Gaza.

According to Conricus, the tunnel was dug in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, some 900 meters from Israel, and extended 180 meters into Israeli territory.

On the other end, it also extended hundreds of meters into Egypt, which could have allowed fighters in Gaza to attack Israeli positions from the Sinai Peninsula, he said.

Asked if the tunnel could have functioned as both a smuggling and attack tunnel, the army spokesperson responded, “It could have, but we deal with the infrastructure.”

As the tunnel entered Egyptian territory, the army was in contact with Cairo about its destruction, Conricus said, but would not elaborate on the extent of the cooperation.

The tunnel’s design was out of the ordinary, not matching the size of some larger tunnels and lacking the domed roof of smaller attack tunnels.

The strike came shortly after the military announced it would not be opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip on Sunday, following a “situational assessment.”

Judah Ara Gross contributed to this report.

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