Israelis near Gaza border: Hamas tunneling is shaking our floors

Communities near the Palestinian territory report increased subterranean activity, fume at IDF inaction, as Hamas rebuilds its cross-border terror tunnels after 2014 war

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
A Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Residents of Moshav Pri Gan, a community adjacent to the Gaza border, said Thursday that tunnel digging into Israel from the Hamas-run territory has come so close to their homes that it has caused their floors to shake.

The head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Gadi Yarkoni, told Israel Radio that many residents have been complaining of hearing and feeling increased underground digging activity in recent weeks, and were disappointed that the IDF had failed to build protective barriers against the cross-border terror tunnels, as it had promised it would after the summer 2014 war in Gaza.

The cost of a fence around Gaza that would include technological defense against such tunnels is estimated to cost NIS 2.8 billion ($700 million), and according to a Haaretz report earlier this month, there is no allocation in the current defense budget for the project.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon earlier this month assured local leaders that money from the Defense Ministry’s budget would be made available to build the protective barriers.

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Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, built dozens of tunnels into Israel, many of which were used to carry out attacks against soldiers during the 2014 war. The IDF said it destroyed over 30 tunnels during the war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, but officials have expressed fear the terror group is rebuilding its infrastructure.

This week, at least seven people were killed in the course of digging a tunnel for Hamas, though the terror group has been trying to suppress reports on the incident.

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that Hamas is believed to currently have as many tunnels reaching under the Gaza border into Israel as it did before the summer 2014 conflict.

Last week, a senior defense official said Hamas’s military wing had rehabilitated itself and was ready for a fresh round of hostilities with Israel.

Israeli security officials do not believe that Hamas is currently seeking another major round of conflict with Israel in and around Gaza. Rather, one official said, the terror group is currently attempting to subdue rival Salafist groups that have launched a number of attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territory in recent months.

During the war, Hamas gunmen emerged from the tunnels on various occasions, killing several soldiers. Two months after the war ended, an IDF spokesman said Hamas had planned to use the tunnels for a massive coordinated attack inside Israel. “They planned to send 200 terrorists armed to the teeth toward civilian populations,” Peter Lerner said in October 2014. “This was going to be a coordinated attack. The concept of operations involved 14 offensive tunnels into Israel. With at least 10 men in each tunnel, they would infiltrate and inflict mass casualties.”

Before the war, Haim Jelin, then head of the Eshkol Regional Council and currently a Knesset member with the Yesh Atid party, told The Times of Israel, standing outside a tunnel, that many residents in the region were so scarred by the prospect of a tunnel attack that they hear the phantom scratching of shovels when they close their eyes at night. In the event, the “phantom” noises turned out to be genuine tunnel digging.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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