The Israeli military on Tuesday announced it had uncovered a “terror tunnel” dug from the Gaza Strip that ran dozens of meters into Israeli territory.
The Israel Defense Forces said that following an “indication” from the barrier system whose installation it is completing on the border, military engineers located the concrete-lined tunnel emerging from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.
“The route [of the tunnel] was located as part of the ongoing efforts to find and neutralize tunnels and thanks to the technological and [intelligence] collection capabilities of the barrier,” the IDF said in a statement.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters in a briefing that the military would now destroy the tunnel. Channel 12 news reported that the IDF had already sent forces into Gaza territory to deal with the tunnel.
The military said the tunnel did not penetrate Israel’s new underground barrier and did not pose a threat to communities in the area.
The statement did not specify who dug and built the tunnel, but the IDF reiterated it holds the Hamas terror group responsible as the Palestinian enclave’s ruler.
“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.
Military sources said the tunnel was detected by sensors in the concrete subterranean barrier that Israel has been building around Hamas-run Gaza, and marked a notable success. Work on the barrier has been continuing for some four years, and some 60 kilometers of the barrier’s 65-km. length have been completed.
Work on the barrier was prioritized after 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, during which the IDF destroyed some 30 tunnels penetrating into Israel; thwarting the tunnels was the key purpose of that operation’s ground offensive.
The detected tunnel is the first that the sophisticated new barrier has detected extending into Israel, but the 20th tunnel attempted by Gaza terrorists that the barrier and its sensors, dozens of meters underground, has helped thwart, Channel 12 news reported.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, ”Even on days when the south appears to be quiet, beneath the surface, terrorist organizations continue their efforts to harm Israeli citizens and our sovereignty.”
“The discovery of the tunnel is evidence of the IDF’s intelligence and technological abilities, which will continue to act against threats and undermine terrorist organizations at the time and place that we decide.”
The announcement came a day after the IDF restricted access to the southern Gaza border area due to what it said was an unspecified “engineering operation.” It stressed there was no danger to residents of the area and on Monday night eased the security restrictions.
Earlier Tuesday, Gantz appeared to hint at the discovery of the tunnel while visiting the military’s Gaza Division.
“I can assure the residents of the area that we are doing everything to ensure a quiet and safe life,” Gantz said in a video statement. “Sleep quietly and the IDF soldiers and security forces will continue their operations to defend you.”
Gantz, who was accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, met with senior commanders and toured the barrier being built along the border, according to his office.
The discovery of the tunnel came as tensions with the Strip have ramped up amid ongoing threats by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip to exact revenge should a hunger-striking security prisoner held by Israel die. Maher al-Akhras, who has not eaten for 86 days, is suspected by Israel of being a PIJ operative.
On Monday morning, the official Palestinian news outlet SAFA reported that al-Akhras was in very serious condition as a result of his hunger strike.
On Friday night, at least one rocket was fired at southern Israel from the Strip, striking an open field where it caused neither damage nor injury. The IDF did not immediately retaliate, but a defense official said the matter would not go unanswered.
It was the first rocket attack since October 5, when another single rocket was fired, without causing casualties or damage. In response, Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas military installation in the southern Gaza Strip.
Prior to that, the last cross-border rocket attack — after which Israel retaliated with air raids — came on September 15 and coincided with the signing in Washington of normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. During that barrage, 15 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, one of which struck the city of Ashdod, injuring two people, one of them seriously. Most of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the Israel Defense Forces 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. As part of the agreement, Qatar will transfer $100 million to Hamas in a deal coordinated with Doha by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, alongside the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), according to the report.
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. The most recent round of funds was set to run out within weeks, Channel 12 reported.
Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.