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TV: 40-minute bombing ‘destroyed Hamas tunnel network, killed dozens of gunmen’

Palestinians inspect destroyed buildings following overnight Israeli airstrikes in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians inspect destroyed buildings following overnight Israeli airstrikes in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In its 40-minute assault on Hamas’s tunnel network in Gaza overnight Thursday-Friday, Israel destroyed miles of tunnels and killed what it believes to be dozens of Hamas fighters in what it hopes will be a decisive phase of the current conflict, Israeli TV reports say.

The bombing was the largest Israeli strike since the outbreak of fighting earlier this week, the military said earlier Friday.

The assault was prefaced by a deliberate ruse in which the IDF indicated it was opening a ground offensive — prompting Hamas to send its fighters, including commanders, into the tunnels, Channel 12 says. When the IAF bombed them, “the tunnels collapsed on those inside.”

Some 160 Israel Air Force planes targeted the tunnels, a network extending through tens of miles in northern Gaza and around Gaza City. A total of 450 bombs were dropped, with a combined load of 80 tons of explosives, the TV report says.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi at an Israel Air Force command center as the IAF bombs Hamas’s Gaza tunnel network overnight Thursday-Friday May 13-14, 2021 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“It is not clear” how many Hamas operatives were killed, the report says; “Hamas itself may not yet know.” It says many Hamas commanders are believed to have been in the tunnels.

The IAF’s Nevatim airbase commander, Omer Tishler, says “actions such as this, so damaging to the enemy,” would likely “make the enemy want to stop… but in any case we will continue [to target Hamas] as long as is necessary.”

Hamas weaponry was located in the tunnels, including rocket launchers; Hamas would also have tried to kill and capture IDF soldiers by emerging from the tunnels to capture them, as was the case in previous conflicts.

Illustrative: Photo from inside a Hamas attack tunnel that the Israeli military destroyed in airstrikes on May 29, 2018. The army said the tunnel extended into Egypt and from there 900 meters into Israeli territory (Courtesy IDF)

In a statement earlier Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted: “I said we would strike Hamas and other terror groups with significant blows, and we are doing so. In the last day we have attacked underground targets. Hamas thought it could hide there, but it cannot. Hamas leaders think they can escape from our grasp. They cannot escape. We can reach them everywhere — all of [Hamas’s] people and we will continue to do so.”

Channel 12 calls the bombing of the tunnels “the central action” to date of this week’s conflict, but says the IDF has further such operations ready to carry out if and when necessary.

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