JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces on Sunday destroyed a “significant” cross-border attack tunnel from the Gaza Strip, which the military said was being dug by the enclave’s dominant Islamist group, Hamas.
The announcement, cleared by Israeli censors who had previously barred reports of detection work around the central Gaza frontier, followed a surge of Palestinian unrest in response to last week’s U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
It also came as Palestinian factions tried to meet Sunday’s deadline for an Egyptian-mediated handover of Gaza by Hamas to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas after a decade’s schism.
A network of Gaza tunnels allowed Hamas gunmen to blindside Israel’s superior forces during the 2014 war and the Israelis, with U.S. help, have since stepped up work on counter-measures.
The tunnel destroyed on Sunday ran hundreds of meters into Israeli territory and, though unfinished, was a new project that showed “a significant effort by Hamas”, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
He did not elaborate on how Israel knew Hamas was responsible for the tunnel, which he said reached to within 1km (0.6 miles) of the nearest Israeli civilian community.
Hamas did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The previous such announcement was on Oct. 30, when Israel blew up a tunnel dug by Islamic Jihad. In the process of that demolition, 10 gunmen from the group and another two from Hamas were killed - deaths that Israeli sources described as an unintended result of the passage’s collapse within Gazan turf.
Conricus said that “to the best of our knowledge” there were no such casualties on Sunday, though he added that the tunnels could be “death traps” for Gaza gunmen.
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will continue to discover, expose and demolish these terror tunnels,” he said.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Goodman