GAZA (Reuters) – A Palestinian militant group said on Friday that five of its members had been killed earlier this week when Israel blew up a cross-border tunnel being dug by militants from the Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll in the strike to 12.
Neither side seemed eager to seek escalation after the tunnel was blown up on Monday by Israel, which pointed out that its action was carried out on its own side of the border.
The Islamic Jihad group said it was denied access to the collapsed tunnel and was unable to recover the bodies of its five members.
Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the dominant Islamist group in Gaza that had said earlier it lost two people in the tunnel collapse, have sworn to retaliate.
Hamas accused Israel of trying to undermine a reconciliation agreement it reached with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, last month.
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.
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, a counterpoint to the Iron Dome anti-missile system that largely protected the country’s heartland from militant rocket barrages.
Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the pact between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, so Israeli peace efforts with Abbas, which collapsed in 2014, could proceed. Hamas has rejected the demand.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Editing by William Maclean)