A senior Hamas officer in the Gaza Strip has been missing for several days, with reports in the coastal enclave suggesting he crossed the border and turned himself in to Israel.
The elite officer in Hamas’ military wing Izz a-din al-Qassam Brigades, who was not named, is the son of a Hamas judge from Khan Younis in the south of the Strip and was involved in training in the terror group’s cross-border tunnels, according to an Israeli Channel 2 report.
Some Palestinian reports indicated the officer told his family he was going for a hike and crossed the border into Israel, the TV report said. The Hamas officer is believed to have extensive information on the terror group’s underground network.
Earlier this month, Israeli security forces said Hamas operatives can travel throughout the Gaza Strip entirely underground using the terror group’s extensive tunnel network.
Information about the tunnel system has come from the testimony of at least two low-level Hamas members picked up by Israeli troops in the last months, the Shin Bet security service says.
The terror organization’s tunnel network has become a focus of Israel’s security forces since the end of the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, when the underground system was used to devastating effect to attack Israeli troops near the border with Gaza.
Since assuming his position in early 2015, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has repeatedly said the threat of the tunnels was at the top of his list of priorities.
The fear among security officials is that an attack tunnel, or “terror tunnel,” as they’ve become known in Israel, will be used to bring a Hamas terror cell into an Israeli community on the border with Gaza, where they can kill civilians or take them hostage.
The testimony of one 17-year-old Hamas operative yielded “high-value information about Hamas’s operations in the northern Gaza Strip, especially its attack tunnels,” the Shin Bet said.
In April and May, the IDF uncovered two “terror tunnels” that crossed into Israeli territory, the first such discoveries since the end of Operation Protective Edge in August 2014.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.