JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel destroyed a cross-border tunnel on Thursday running from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, which it said was dug by the Palestinian Hamas group with the aim of carrying out attacks.
There was no immediate comment from Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel in the past decade and is the dominant Palestinian armed force in Gaza, where an Israeli security fence runs along the frontier.
“In the past few hours our forces have neutralised a terrorist attack tunnel belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation, which penetrated Israel from the central Gaza Strip,” a military statement said.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters on a conference call that the tunnel, which he said was the 15th detected and destroyed in the last year, ran 200 meters into Israeli territory.
Earlier on Thursday, the army said rocket alert sirens that had sounded in Israeli communities near the border with the Gaza Strip were a false alarm. [nL8N1WR1R4]
Palestinian gunmen used tunnels to blindside Israeli forces during the 2014 Gaza war. Israel has since been developing detection technologies and laying down an underground wall which will remove the threat posed to Israel by these tunnel by 2019.
Tensions at the Israel-Gaza border have remained high after a brief eruption of fighting that included Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes ended in August.
Palestinians have been mounting weekly protests at the border which have included attempts to breach a security fence. Israeli troops have killed at least 195 Palestinians and wounded thousands since the protests began in March, Gaza medics say, and one Israeli soldier has been killed by a Gaza sniper.
Citing security reasons, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on their borders with Gaza, a policy that has deepened economic hardship in the territory of two million Palestinians.
The Gaza protesters have called for the blockade to be lifted and also demand a return to lands that Palestinian families fled or were driven from on Israel’s founding in 1948.
Egyptian efforts to mediate a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel has so far shown little progress.
As part of a U.N.-backed effort to alleviate hardship in Gaza, Qatar has donated fuel to provide for Gaza’s power plant for six months. Delivery of the fuel began earlier this week. [nL8N1WR1R4]
Doha has also announced a $150 million emergency aid package for Gaza.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)