Israel bombs Gaza 'underground' tunnel complex with fears of new escalation

Israel bombs Gaza 'underground' tunnel complex with fears of new escalation
Israeli forces used new technology to target alleged Hamas-run underground tunnels in Gaza in retaliation to an IED explosion on the border on Saturday
3 min read
18 March, 2018
Locals examine the damage from Israeli air raids in Gaza City [Getty]

Israel's military carried out an air raids overnight against an underground Hamas facility in the Gaza Strip, destroying a separate tunnel under construction that could be used for attacks, it said on Sunday.

The raids were carried out in response to an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near Gaza's northern border with Israel, the latest in a series of such incidents targeting Israeli border forces guarding the besieged enclave.

No casualties were reported in either operation.

Palestinian factions on Sunday warned against an escalation of Israeli aggression in Gaza, fearing that recent tensions may provoke another full-blown episode of the conflict, Arab 48 reported.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told reporters on Sunday that Israeli escalation will "achieve nothing" apart from providing an incentive to the Palestinian people to "challenge and confront" the occupation.

He added that Israel must end the crippling siege of Gaza.

Israel's military said the operation to destroy the tunnel involved new technology it has been working on to detect them.

"Our policy is to act resolutely against any attempt to harm us and systematically eliminate the terror tunnel infrastructure, and we will continue doing so," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

A new tunnel under construction by Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the impoverished Gaza Strip, was being dug to link up with an older one in the south of the Palestinian enclave, according to military spokesman Jonathan Conricus.

The new tunnel had not reached Israeli territory and was within several hundred metres of the border fence, near the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and in the area of the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, he said.

The older tunnel did "partially" reach into Israeli territory, but it had been discovered in 2014 and cut off. According to Conricus, the recent Hamas work was an attempt to link up with the part of the older tunnel that "they thought could still be usable."

Israel had been monitoring the work before the operation, said Conricus.

An unspecified material was injected to thwart the work and explosives were not used, he said, declining to elaborate further. 

Israeli soldiers carried out the operation from the Israeli side of the border fence, he said.

Conricus also did not describe in more detail what he said was an underground facility struck in the air raid in the central Gaza Strip.

"It was a subterranean complex, a military complex," he said.

Gaza resident Amal Malaka spoke of her fear as the strike was occurring.

"We heard the sound of shelling, the whole of the house shaking and the windows too," she told AFP.

"My children were afraid and the girls fell down from the bed."

Late Saturday, an explosive device went off in the northern Gaza Strip near Israel's border fence, the army said in an earlier statement, with no casualties reported.

Israel had already retaliated once in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, with tanks destroying a Hamas observation post.

According to Palestinian sources, tank fire injured one person.

Two explosive devices were detonated Thursday along the border, which had already provoked Israeli attacks on Hamas positions.

On 17 February, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an improvised explosive device on the border, sparking intense military retaliation.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but Israel has held Hamas responsible as the de facto power in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2014. The strip has been under an Israeli blockade for around a decade.