IDF destroys Hamas tunnel in northern Gaza, the 9th in a year

Military says the tunnel was mere meters from Israeli territory; air raid comes after violent riots at Kerem Shalom, latest arson incident started by firebomb-bearing kites

The Israeli military said Saturday night that it destroyed a Hamas tunnel mere meters away from Israeli territory, hitting the underground structure with a number of airstrikes.

This was the ninth Gaza tunnel destroyed by Israel since October 30. Five of them were attack tunnels that crossed the border into Israeli territory, the rest were inside the coastal enclave, more likely used to move fighters and munitions around the Strip undetected.

The Israel Defense Forces said the Hamas “terror tunnel” destroyed in airstrikes on Saturday night ran next to the Erez pedestrian crossing and was meters away from reaching into Israeli territory.

This was the first attack tunnel that the army destroyed inside Gaza territory, as opposed to the other five that penetrated Israeli territory, the army said.

“The detection of the tunnel and its demolition is part of the ongoing effort to thwart the underground terror by Gaza-based terror groups headed by the Palestinian terror group Hamas,” the military said, adding that the operation was part of increased efforts to detect tunnels using advanced technological means.

The military added that the tunnel, which originated in Beit Hanoun in the northern Strip, was “neutralized” in the strikes, but not necessarily fully destroyed. IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the army decided to hit the tunnel with airstrikes, as opposed to more effective ground-based methods, because of a number of operational considerations, including “convenience” and the issues posed by its proximity to the Erez Crossing.

Conricus said the tunnel was approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) long and had been under construction for several months.

The IDF had been monitoring it for “several weeks” before determining that Saturday night was the appropriate time to destroy it.

Conricus said the construction of this tunnel underneath the Erez Crossing, which Palestinians use to travel in and out of the Strip, along with Hamas’s attempt in January to dig a tunnel under the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which is used to bring commercial goods and humanitarian aid into Gaza, was proof of the terrorist group’s “cynicism.”

“It’s a bit bombastic, but it’s fair to say that Hamas is killing Gaza,” Conricus told reporters.

The spokesman noted that the Erez Crossing would be open on Sunday.

“Hamas continues to pour vast resources into building tunnels and thwarts humanitarian efforts that allow Israel and other countries to help Gaza residents, instead of investing in developing the Strip,” the IDF said in a statement.

Conricus said the tunnel was located using the army’s “new technological capability,” which the IDF has said it used to uncover the five cross-border tunnels.

There were no immediate reports of Palestinian injuries.

The Israeli airstrikes came a day after Palestinian rioters trashed key infrastructure at the Kerem Shalom crossing, which serves as the only entry point of outside goods into the enclave, causing immense damage, and hours after Palestinians launched incendiary kites across the border, sparking two brush fires in Israel.

Earlier Saturday, Israel said it was shuttering the Kerem Shalom crossing. The IDF said the crossing would remain closed until the “extensive damage” caused to the torched gas lines, electricity infrastructure, and a conveyor belt used to transfer goods into the Strip is repaired.

Above: Rioters damage the Kerem Shalom border crossing on the Gaza side of the border.

On Saturday night, the army announced it was working to allow a shipment of six trucks full of medical equipment through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Sunday, despite the damage to the site.

The strikes also came as Israeli firefighters worked to put out brush fires sparked by fire-bomb bearing kites sent over the Gaza border into Israel.

In recent weeks, Gazans have been flying kites into Israel outfitted with Molotov cocktails and containers of burning fuel, setting fire to large swaths of fields and crops.

The tactic was introduced as part of the weekly “March of Return” demonstrations at the border fence, which began on March 30 and are due to culminate next week when the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem. The mass protests are being encouraged by Hamas, which rules Gaza, and whose leaders say their goal is to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

Israeli firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza strip, on May 8, 2018 after it was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

During Friday’s demonstrations, a kite from Gaza carrying flammable material started a fire in fields near Kibbutz Am, close to the border.

The largest blaze yet sparked by the firebomb-bearing kites happened Wednesday near Kibbutz Be’eri, an Israeli community located some seven kilometers (4.3 miles) east of Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp. The fire took over 6 hours to extinguish and consumed dozens of dunams of grasslands and agricultural fields in the area.

With the number of kite attacks now reaching as many as 15 per day, military planners have begun implementing new measures to end the practice, including options drawn from the IDF’s responses to rocket launches and other terror attacks.

Specialized IDF drones designed to destroy the burning kites midair were used successfully for the first time during Friday’s protests, Walla news reported. An IDF official told the news website that the drones destroyed over 40 burning kites throughout the border demonstrations.

Last week, the IDF for the first time struck a Hamas site in Gaza that was used as a launching pad for incendiary kites. An IDF spokeswoman said at the time that the strikes were a response to “terrorists launching burning incendiaries in an attempt to a cause fire in Israeli territory.”

The IDF has warned Gazans against sending blazing kites over the border, saying Israel would not tolerate the “arson phenomenon.”

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