Hamas operatives can travel throughout the Gaza Strip entirely underground using the terror group’s extensive tunnel network, Israeli security forces said Sunday.
Information about the tunnel system came from the testimony of a 17-year-old Hamas member who was picked up by Israeli troops last month after he illegally crossed into Israel from Gaza, the Shin Bet security service said.
The underage operative “belonged to the Beit Lahiya Battalion” in the northern Gaza Strip and “most of his activity was in the field of tunnels,” the security agency said in a statement.
Through his testimony, Israel learned “Hamas is working to construct tunnels that are linked to combat tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip,” the Shin Bet said.
“Hamas has dug a extensive network for moving fighters around the Strip exclusively underground. This network of tunnels includes rest quarters for use by elite unites in time of emergency,” the service said.
The terror organization’s tunnel network has become a focus of Israel’s security forces since the end of the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, when the underground system was used to devastating effect to attack Israeli troops near the border with Gaza.
Since assuming his position in early 2015, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has repeatedly said the threat of the tunnels was at the top of his list of priorities.
The fear among security officials is that an attack tunnel, or “terror tunnel,” as they’ve become known in Israel, will be used to bring a Hamas terror cell into an Israeli community on the border with Gaza, where they can kill civilians or take them hostage.
The testimony of the 17-year-old Hamas operative yielded “high-value information about Hamas’s operations in the northern Gaza Strip, especially its attack tunnels,” the Shin Bet said.
Another teenage Hamas operative was picked up by Israel in April and similarly divulged “extensive information” about the terror group’s tunnel network, according to the Shin Bet.
In May and April, the IDF uncovered two “terror tunnels” that crossed into Israeli territory, the first such discoveries since the end of Operation Protective Edge in August 2014.