Israel: Gaza tunnel foiled

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Israel said Sunday it destroyed a Hamas tunnel from the Gaza Strip and gave rare details on a classified military laboratory spearheading efforts to foil the cross-border digs.

Palestinian fighters used tunnels to blindside Israeli forces during the 2014 Gaza war. Israel has since been developing detection technologies and laying down an underground frontier wall which, it says, will end the Gaza tunnel threat by 2019.

It is the fifth such detection in as many months and Israeli officials regard publicity around their tunnel hunts as a double-edged sword.

They hope it will discourage any new digs but worry it could prompt militants to preempt the razing of any existing passages by using them for attacks.

The most recent discovery was of a passage running “kilometers” from within Gaza to just over the border, Israel’s military said, accusing the enclave’s dominant Hamas group of being behind the project. Hamas did not comment.

“There was no use of explosives, but rather, we filled the tunnel, which rendered it useless for a very long period of time,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters. He did not elaborate on the means of detection nor how the tunnel was filled.

Such details are secret in Israel, which has received U.S. congressional funding for the project.

Sunday, Israel went public with a military laboratory it set up in 2016 to pool anti-tunnel expertise.

The laboratory “uses innovative ground research, which includes scanning of cavities and their dynamics, [and] strives to develop new discovery and mapping techniques,” a military statement said.

A video release showed soldiers, with faces obscured, poring over maps and computer screens at an undisclosed location.

Israel offered no explanation for its publication about the laboratory.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad group said four of its members were killed Saturday in a “work accident” in the southern Gaza Strip along the border with Israel.

The explosion struck a three-wheeled vehicle near one of the five protest camps Palestinians have set up along the volatile Gaza-Israel border in recent weeks.

Islamic Jihad said all four were killed “during preparations” without elaborating, implying they were preparing an attack against Israel.

The Israeli military said it was unaware of any activity in the area of the blast.

It comes a day after another mass gathering along the border area in which thousands of Palestinians, some burning Israeli flags and torching tires, staged a protest against the 10-year-old blockade.

One protester was killed Friday, bringing the death toll to 31 over the last two weeks, with more than 1,500 wounded by Israeli fire since March 30.

The marches have been organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, but large turnouts on two preceding Fridays were also driven by Gaza’s dire living conditions and desperation among the territory’s 2 million residents who have been enduring a crippling border closure by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Rights groups have described the Israeli military’s open-fire regulations as unlawful, saying they permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

Hamas leaders have sent mixed signals about whether they plan an eventual mass breach of the border fence. The protests are to culminate in a large rally on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation. Palestinians mourn the event as their “Nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.