IDF officer says there are likely more Gaza tunnels leading into Israel

IDF officer says there are likely more Gaza tunnels leading into Israel

Southern (Gaza) Brigade commander tells border town residents the latest round of violence is ‘like a snowball we’re trying to stop’

Israeli troops prepare to destroy a Hamas attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops prepare to destroy a Hamas attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Just days after the Israeli army destroyed an attack tunnel leading from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, a senior army officer told residents of a kibbutz near the border that it likely wasn’t the last such passage.

During a visit to Kibbutz Nirim, Colonel Kobi Heller, the commander of the Israel Defense Force’s Southern (Gaza) Brigade, tried to reassure his audience by saying that the tunnel, blown up over the weekend, did not pose a threat.

But he added,”There are probably more tunnels that we will find and destroy,” according to recordings of his remarks that surfaced on Thursday.

Addressing rising tensions amid a sharp increase in the number of rockets being fired from Gaza, and prompting retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, Heller said, “The dynamic there at the moment is like a snowball we’re trying to stop.”

Terrorists “on the other side” were not “rational like you and me” and were using a situation in which the ruling Hamas terror group was turning a slight blind eye to make things difficult for Israel, he said.

A NIS 2 billion underground barrier that Israel is constructing along its border with the enclave helped the army to find the tunnel destroyed a few days ago, “and we’ll find additional tunnels in the coming months,” he continued.

Israeli construction teams work on a concrete border wall to run above and below ground along the Gaza border, September 2016. (Screen capture: Ynet)

“[The barrier] will bring good tidings in another two years, and until then, there will be an interim period during which the barrier is going to cut across all the tunnels that exist, if they exist, in the area of the border communities.”

The military said the kilometer-long tunnel destroyed days ago was constructed by the Hamas terrorist group. It began in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and extended “hundreds of meters” inside Israeli territory. Israel demolished another cross-border tunnel, which was being dug by the Islamic Jihad terror group, six weeks earlier.

In announcing the tunnels destruction, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus would not specify where exactly the newly destroyed was located in Israel, but said it ended in open farmland, approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the nearest Israeli community.

“We monitored this tunnel for a long period of time,” Conricus said.

Since last Wednesday, some 15 rockets have been launched from Gaza. According to Israeli officials, five of the rockets have landed in Israeli territory, six were intercepted by the Iron Dome, and the rest failed to clear the security fence and landed inside Gaza.

The numerous rocket attacks followed calls by Hamas for a new intifada in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, as well as increased IDF efforts to find and destroy tunnels from the Gaza Strip that enter Israeli territory, and amid ongoing reconciliation negotiations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In the wake of Trump’s speech, Hamas called for a new intifada to liberate Jerusalem.

Police find a rocket, fired from Gaza, inside a kindergarten in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on December 9, 2017. (Israel Police)

On Wednesday night, terrorists in Gaza fired four rockets at Israel. Two of them were intercepted by the military’s Iron Dome, one hit an open field in the Eshkol region, and the fourth fell short of the border and struck a school run by the United Nations, according to Israeli officials.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the Gaza rockets themselves, but two Israelis were treated for anxiety attacks and a man in his 30s lightly injured his leg while running to a rocket shelter, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

In response to the attacks, Israeli aircraft bombed three Hamas military facilities that the army said were “used as training and weapons storage compounds.” A Palestinian security source said there were more than 10 strikes on the targets, which included a Hamas naval site and a military base near the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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