IDF destroys two Gaza tunnels amid rising border tensions
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IDF destroys two Gaza tunnels amid rising border tensions

One was an 'old tunnel' being revived by Hamas that crossed into Israeli territory from southern Gaza, second was located only inside the Strip

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

The Israeli military on Sunday announced that it destroyed two attack tunnels, one that entered Israeli territory and another inside the central Gaza Strip, the latest in a series of underground structures have been demolished by Israel in recent months.

The border-crossing tunnel destroyed early Sunday morning was located in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

The tunnel demolitions came as tensions between Israel and terror groups in the Palestinian enclave have risen in recent weeks after a number of bombs exploded near IDF patrols along the border, sparking reprisal attacks.

According to Conricus, the cross-border passage destroyed Sunday was an “old tunnel” that was built before the 2014 Gaza war and partially destroyed during the conflict. He said the Hamas terrorist group was trying to “revive” the passage by connecting an intact portion that penetrated Israeli territory to a new tunnel.

The other target, which was destroyed by Israeli fighter jets around midnight on Saturday, was a “subterranean complex” in the central Gaza Strip, according to Conricus.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman credited the army’s destruction of the tunnels to “high quality intelligence and breakthrough technology.”

“Whoever thought they could attack us from underground has come up against an iron wall,” he said, referring to an Israeli wall being built underneath the border to thwart tunnel-building. “Hamas invested billions in its tunnel project and now they’re drowning in the sand. I recommend that Hamas invest its money in the welfare of the citizens of Gaza because by the end of the year its tunnel project will be destroyed.”

Palestinian media published photographs from inside Gaza, apparently showing the damage from the Israeli strikes.

Since October 30, Israel has destroyed four border-crossing tunnels that entered Israeli territory from Gaza, three of them belonging to Hamas and the fourth to the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. In addition, several tunnels  located inside the coastal enclave have also been targeted using a newly developed system that allows Israel to hit them from the air.

Last year, Israel began construction of a new above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip, which the army says will end the threat of attack tunnels from the coastal enclave.

I recommend that Hamas invests its money in the welfare of the citizens of Gaza because by the end of the year its tunnel project will be destroyed

Army officials have said that they expect to find and destroy more tunnels as construction of the barrier continues.

Sunday’s border-crossing tunnel was first discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in July 2014 and was partially destroyed during the war, Conricus told reporters.

However, since the 2014 campaign, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has been trying to reconnect what remained of the tunnel to a new passage being dug in southern Gaza, he said.

Conricus said the army had been monitoring the group’s attempts to rebuild the tunnel for several weeks, but that Hamas had likely been working on the site for far longer.

He said the connection point between the old and new tunnels was located some 200 meters from the border.

The spokesperson added that the army used a new technique to destroy the tunnel that would prevent Hamas from being able to use it again, but would not elaborate on its nature.

Conricus said he could not describe the underground infrastructure destroyed in central Gaza, beyond saying that it was used by the Hamas terrorist group for “military purposes.”

According to the spokesperson, the destruction of this “subterranean complex” was in response to the bombing that took place on the border fence that was meant to injure Israeli soldiers, but failed to do so.

Israeli officials have for years warned that Hamas and other groups are trying to rebuild the tunnel infrastructure, which were used extensively during the 2014 war in attacks on soldiers. Israelis fear the tunnels could be used to carry out attacks on communities or army posts near the border.

A video by Hamas published recently showed the group displaying what it said was renewed tunnel building. It was not clear if the tunnel in the video was among those destroyed Sunday.

Earlier on Sunday, the army had erected roadblocks in the area around the Eshkol Region, which abuts the Gaza border border.

Conricus said there was no risk to civilians, and the roadblocks were later removed.

The local council sent a message to residents, telling them that despite the increased army presence in the area, the roads were open.

“There is movement of security vehicles in the southern portion of the region, but the roads are open and there are no blocks to traffic. The council is in constant contact with military officials. There are no special instructions to residents,” the council said.

View of Gaza as seen from the southern Israeli border, January 23, 2018 (Yaakov Lederman/FLASH90)

On Saturday, after the bomb planted near the Israel-Gaza border exploded, causing no casualties, Israeli tanks also destroyed a Hamas post in the area in response to the bombing.

The IDF said there were no troops near the bomb when it detonated, the latest in a series of attempted bomb attacks on Israeli troops.

On Friday, some 150 Palestinians were said to have taken part in riots along the Gaza border, with the Palestinian Authority’s official Wafa news agency reporting seven demonstrators were wounded by Israeli fire during the clashes.

A Palestinian protesters jumps over a field of cacti during clashes with Israeli forces near Khan Yunis by the border between Israel and the southern Gaza strip on March 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The protests were part of a “day of rage” marking 100 days since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Hundreds of Palestinians also clashed with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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