March 18, 2018 / 8:49 AM / a month ago

Israel says foiled Hamas bid to rebuild Gaza tunnel

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces on Sunday knocked out a tunnel in the Gaza Strip dug by Hamas militants to mount cross-border attacks, the military said.

Israeli soldiers stand close to a security barrier near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israel March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The tunnel had been cut off during the 2014 Gaza war and Hamas had tried to put it back into operation, a military spokesman said. It had been dug inside the Hamas-ruled enclave several hundred meters away from Israel’s border fence.

The Israeli forces did not cross the border to render the tunnel inoperable but used a new technique, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

Construction work can be seen on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israel March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“We did not use explosives. It (the tunnel) was filled with a certain material, with a certain compound,” Conricus said.

Slideshow (4 Images)

A spokesman for Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s arch foe, said the military was “marketing fake achievements” to boost the morale of soldiers and Israelis living near the enclave.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Also citing security concerns, Egypt keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

During the 2014 war, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces. Since then, Israel has been working on advanced counter-measures including a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, a $1.1 billion project it aims to complete by mid-2019.

“On the basis of quality intelligence and groundbreaking technology, Israel is destroying Hamas tunnels one-by-one,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

Israel last went public with an operation against a Gaza tunnel in the area in January, saying that the secret passage had also run through neighboring Egypt.

Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan

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