The Qatari Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said the IDF’s destruction of a tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory earlier this week was a crime against the Palestinian people that hampered their legitimate rights.
Five Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists — including two senior commanders — and two terrorists from Hamas’s armed wing were killed as a result of the tunnel’s destruction.
Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said Tuesday that the attack tunnel that was blown up by the IDF the previous day had been built by his group for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
“The State of Qatar expressed its strong condemnation of the Israeli shelling of Gaza Strip in which a number of Palestinians were martyred and others were injured,” the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that exploding the tunnel was “a continuation of the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and a desperate attempt to obstruct their efforts for claiming their legitimate rights.”
Qatar has long been a supporter of Hamas and has paid for much of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the terror group fought a 50-day war with Israel in 2014.
Qatar reiterated its “full support for the Palestinian people’s self-determination and restoration of all legitimate rights, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent and sovereign state on the borders of June 4, 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The IDF said the tunnel was discovered inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and is believed to have been dug after 2014. It ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border for dozens of meters, and approached Kibbutz Kissufim.
Speaking at a funeral for the five PIJ terrorists killed, Batsch said Tuesday “the purpose of the tunnel was kidnapping soldiers in order to free prisoners [from Israeli prisons].”
The PIJ leader said his group would dig another tunnel to abduct soldiers to trade for prisoners in Israel.
The two deceased members of Hamas’s military wing died in rescue efforts, the group said.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has kidnapped Israeli soldiers in the past in order to use them as bargaining chips for prisoner swaps. Kidnapping soldiers, the group has said, is one of its main priorities.
The IDF said the operation was designed to demolish the tunnel rather than kill those inside.
“The majority of the dead were operatives who entered the tunnel after it was blown up and died in the Gaza Strip, and not as a [direct result] of the explosion,” said IDF spokesperson Avichay Adraee Tuesday.
Hamas accused Israel of stirring up chaos in Gaza through the demolition of the tunnel in order to foil its ongoing reconciliation talks with the Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and controls parts of the West Bank.
Last week, Qatar announced it would fund a new headquarters for the PA in Gaza as it seeks to support the reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah.