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IDF: Gaza attack tunnel found this week was dug by Hamas

Passage extending from Khan Younis tens of meters into Israel was discovered by sensors attached to army’s new underground barrier

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

This photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces on October 20, 2020, shows a soldier operating along the border with the southern Gaza Strip, after a tunnel entering Israeli territory was found in the area. (Israel Defense Forces)
This photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces on October 20, 2020, shows a soldier operating along the border with the southern Gaza Strip, after a tunnel entering Israeli territory was found in the area. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it determined that an attack tunnel discovered earlier this week from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was dug by the Hamas terror group.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced it had uncovered what it called a “terror tunnel” that had been dug from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis across the border toward the Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim.

At the time, the IDF said it was not yet sure which terror group in the Strip had constructed the passage, though Hamas was seen as the likely culprit, having dug the majority of the attack tunnels out of Gaza. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has also been known to construct such passages.

Though the tunnel penetrated dozens of meters into Israeli territory, it remained on the Gaza side of the underground concrete barrier around the Strip. IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the sensor-studded barrier, which is due to be completed in the coming months, first identified an anomaly on Monday and military engineers confirmed that it was in fact a tunnel the following day.

The military said Wednesday night it had determined that Hamas was behind the tunnel based on the manner in which it was constructed. It did not offer any details.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

Earlier on Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the passage was a “very, very significant terror tunnel.”

“I don’t want to get into the technical details about the tunnel, but I can say that it was a highly significant asset for the enemy, and we will continue to take care of it and the subterranean threat with every method and every advanced means — from technology to intelligence,” Kohavi said.

The military said the tunnel did not pose a threat to communities in the area.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday morning assured residents of the Gaza border area that the military had the situation under control and that they need not worry.

“I am telling residents of the south to go about their lives, the IDF is protecting them. This [situation] is supposed to be my concern, you can be relaxed,” he said.

The tunnel was the first that the sophisticated new barrier has detected extending into Israel, but the 20th tunnel attempted by Gaza terrorists that has been thwarted by it since the 2014 Gaza war, during which the IDF destroyed some 30 tunnels penetrating into Israel, Zilberman said.

Thwarting the tunnels was the key purpose of that conflict’s ground offensive.

The barrier is essentially a thick concrete wall going dozens of meters underground and lined with sensors meant to pick up digging activity.

Work on the barrier has been continuing for some four years, and roughly 60 kilometers (37 miles) of the barrier’s 65-kilometer length have been completed. The project was expected to be completed by March 2021, Zilberman said.

“The IDF is determined to defend Israel’s sovereignty and the security of its citizens and will continue to act against terror — above and below ground — in every area where it may be required,” the military said.

Last week, Channel 12 reported that Israel and Hamas had reached a truce agreement mediated by Qatar that will see quiet on the southern border for a period of six months. Reports have also indicated that the sides are nearing a deal on resuming tens of million of dollars in monthly cash transfers from Qatar.

Mohammad al-Emadi, Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, has regularly visited Gaza in recent years with Israeli approval, bringing funds to the Strip for purchasing fuel, paying civil servants and helping Gaza’s poor.

Alex Fulbright and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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