Netanyahu hints that Israel hit Gaza tunnel, warns of ‘greater’ response

Leaving Israel for week-long trip to India, PM alludes to Palestinian reports of IDF strikes, says air force did not ‘just target sand dunes’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during lunch with NATO ambassadors to Israel at the King David hotel in Jerusalem on January 9, 2018. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during lunch with NATO ambassadors to Israel at the King David hotel in Jerusalem on January 9, 2018. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Hamas with “even greater force” after Israeli jets targeted sites linked to the terror group Saturday night, alluding to Palestinian media reports that an airstrike had destroyed a tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

“This evening the IDF attacked Hamas’s central terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport before departing for a week-long visit to India.

“There are those who have said the IDF just targeted sand dunes — this is incorrect,” he said, in an apparent hint at the claims that a Hamas tunnel had been destroyed in the strike. “Hamas must understand that we will not allow the continuation of these attacks and will respond with even greater force.”

Earlier Saturday, the IDF confirmed that its aircraft had carried out strikes on “terror infrastructure” in the southern Rafah region of the Gaza Strip. It would not comment on what exactly was bombed.

In general, tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula are used to transport commercial goods and, in some cases, weaponry into the Strip, as a way to circumvent the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

In its statement, the army added, “The Hamas terror organization is accountable for all activity in and from the Gaza strip.”

The attack came shortly after the military announced it would not be opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip on Sunday, following a “situational assessment.”

UN trucks carrying building materials for projects funded by UNRWA arrive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after crossing the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing on December 10, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The army said the decision to not open the crossing, which ordinarily sees hundreds of goods-bearing trucks pass through it each day, was made after extensive rioting took place along the security fence surrounding the coastal enclave on Friday.

Once a rare move, this will be the second time Kerem Shalom is punitively closed in under a month, as Israel seeks to force the ruling Hamas terrorist group to return quiet to the Gaza Strip.

On December 14, following multiple rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel also shut down the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which is used for goods, along with Erez Crossing, through which people enter and exit the Strip.

The Erez Crossing opened a day later, and Kerem Shalom was reopened on December 17.

Last week, the IDF struck what many assumed to be a tunnel in the Gaza Strip, following a series of mortar attacks.

In its statement at the time, the army referred to the target of the attack on January 4 as “significant terror infrastructure.”

According to official Palestinian media, that “infrastructure” was farmland in the southern Gaza Strip, prompting many to assume that it was, in fact, a tunnel beneath the field.

Last year, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot responded to criticism that the military was targeting “sand dunes and empty bunkers” in its strikes in Gaza, telling the Knesset that the IDF is actively thwarting the tunnels and publicly acknowledging for the first time that the army has the technology to do so.

“Every missile or shell we fired was at a valuable target, at underground targets,” Eisenkot said in March “We have developed a capability that allows us to strike them.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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