GAZA (Reuters) – The Israeli military said on Sunday it had destroyed a cross-border attack tunnel that ran from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, dug by the Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave.
Residents in Gaza said Israeli jets bombed an area east of the southern town of Rafah, by the Egyptian and Israeli borders, late on Saturday night. Israel confirmed the attack immediately after, but gave no details until Sunday.
“We understand this was a terror tunnel because it runs underneath strategic facilities,” Israeli military spokesman Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, referring to gas and fuel pipelines, as well as an army position it ran under.
“It could also have served to transfer terrorists from the Gaza strip into Egypt in order to attack Israeli targets from Egypt.”
Hamas did not comment.
Conricus said the tunnel destroyed Saturday was dug by key operatives of Hamas and was 1.5 km long (about one mile), penetrating 80 meters (260 feet) under the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Israel and into Egypt.
“It is definitely a possibility that an attack was imminent,” Conricus said, but would not elaborate further.
Kerem Shalom, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, was shut down on Saturday before the Israeli attack.
Tensions have risen in the region Since President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians in Gaza have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortars and 15 protesters and two gunmen have been killed by Israeli fire.
Escalation could easily occur, even though both sides have signaled they do not want that to happen.
During the last Gaza war, in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces and threaten civilian communities near the frontier.
The Israeli military said it has destroyed three such tunnels in the past two months, but that it was not seeking escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the tunnel was a ”major terrorism infrastructure belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas must understand that we will not allow these attacks to continue and that we will respond with even greater force,” he told reporters before boarding a flight to India.
Israel has been constructing a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, aiming to complete the $1.1 billion project by mid-2019.
(This version of the story corrects figure in 6th paragraph.)
Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore