Egyptian forces flooded and partially destroyed a Hamas tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip Monday, temporarily trapping a number of workers inside, Palestinian media reported.
News of the incident came as Israeli security forces revealed they had discovered and destroyed a Hamas attack tunnel extending into Israeli territory, also near the southern Strip.
The tunnel flooded by Egypt appeared to have been a commercial tunnel used to smuggle people and goods in and out of the Strip, as opposed to the “terror tunnel” located in southern Israel, which could have been used to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Despite the two setbacks, however, Hamas claimed to be undeterred.
“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement shortly after Israel announced it had destroyed the tunnel.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as the military arm of Hamas is known, alleged the tunnel discovery was a red herring on Israel’s part designed to distract from the government’s failings.
“After the serious criticism against the military and political leaders of the enemy, and the terror experienced by the residents living near Gaza, the enemy announced the discovery of a tunnel east of Rafah, but it has not dared to publish all of the details and has not given all the facts to its people,” the group’s statement said.
“The Qassam Brigades retain the right to publish all the details that have been hidden by the Zionist enemy,” the group added.
It was not immediately clear what Hamas was referring to. However, some Palestinian outlets claimed the true source of Israel’s tunnel discovery was not a technological breakthrough but rather one man: Mahmoud Jasser Awad Atawna.
Atawna, 29, had been an active member of Hamas’s tunnel operations until he fell into the hands of Israeli forces a few weeks ago, the Fateh news site reported.
According to Fateh, Atawna — who went by the nickname Sammy Atawna — lived in the Jabalia refuge in the northern Gaza Strip. He was arrested by Hamas police a few months ago and was temporarily dismissed from his position in the tunnel project. But Atawna eventually returned to his position as a manager of tunnels in northern Gaza.
Local residents reported him missing a number of weeks ago, and Hamas later revealed that he’d been taken across the border into Israel by soldiers, Fateh reported Monday. Israel has thus far refused to discuss the incident.
Meanwhile, the Hamas Interior Ministry announced Monday that it would put to death five Palestinian on suspicion that they had spied for Israel.
On Monday morning, the IDF revealed that last week security forces had discovered the “terror tunnel” coming out of the southern Gaza Strip.
The concrete-lined tunnel has since been “neutralized,” an army spokesperson said, but would not elaborate on whether it was destroyed or merely sealed off.
Its exact location is still being kept under wraps by the military censor, though it does not appear that the tunnel led directly into Holit or Sufa, the Israeli communities closest to the southern Gaza Strip.
The IDF identified the Hamas terror organization as the group behind the tunnel’s construction and maintains it was dug “in order to carry out attacks against civilians,” a spokesperson said, though he would not discuss what specific intelligence led to that finding.
It is the first such tunnel discovered inside Israeli territory since the end of the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. During that operation, dubbed Operation Protective Edge in Israel, at least 34 tunnels were discovered and destroyed by Israeli forces.
In an earlier response to the discovery, Hamas claimed the tunnel was “old,” one that had been used during the 2014 conflict, according to Palestinian media.
The IDF, however, denied that claim, saying it was “a new tunnel that had been built recently.”
The tunnel was located approximately 100 feet (30 to 40 meters) below ground and extended “tens of meters into Israel,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. It was discovered close to the border fence, he added.
“The discovery of this tunnel in recent days is the result of ongoing work,” Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir said in a statement Monday. “The IDF will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal above and below ground to thwart any attempt to harm the people of the State of Israel or IDF soldiers.”
Though the tunnel was found just over one week ago, news of its discovery was forbidden from publication by the military censor.
On Thursday, a senior IDF officer told reporters that Hamas has been recruiting fighters and collecting materiel at a “surprisingly” quick pace, though the group was not yet prepared for another conflict with Israel.
However, he declared the terrorist organization would not again drag Israel into a war, and insisted any future conflict would be one undertaken at the initiative of the Jewish state.
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.