A smuggling tunnel beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafah [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A top Israeli general said Israel will not allow authorities in the Gaza Strip to search for five missing terrorists in the border area between Israel and the small coastal enclave without progress on the issue of Israelis thought to be held in Hamas’s captivity.
Israel destroyed a tunnel leading into its territory from Gaza on Monday, leaving seven dead, at least 12 injured and five missing. In the 2014 Gaza war, Palestinians used similar tunnels to carry out attacks against Israel.
At some point over the past couple of days, the Hamas-run Civil Defense in Gaza asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to request permission on its behalf from Israel to search for the missing individuals in the border region, the Hamas-linked al-Rai website reported on Thursday.
Israel maintains a buffer zone along its border with Gaza that extends dozens of meters in the Strip. According to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, Palestinians who enter the buffer zone risk being shot.
After communicating with the Red Cross chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories Jacques De-Maio, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said in a statement on Thursday that Israel “will not allow for locating the terrorists in the tunnel without progress on the issue of missing and captive Israelis.”
Hamas is believed to be holding captive the bodies of two Israeli soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – as well as three Israeli civilians, Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima.
The Islamist movement has said it would like to negotiate a prisoner swap with Israel, but has conditioned those talks on Israel releasing dozens of prisoners, who were rearrested after being set free in the 2011 Schalit prisoner exchange.
Tzur Goldin, Hadar’s brother, said Israel should use the five missing people to apply pressure on the group to release his brother.
“This is the opportunity we have been waiting for to bring back Hadar and Oron,” Tzur told Channel 2 News on Thursday.
A Hamas official slammed Israel’s decision, asserting that it is not “humanitarian.”
“Setting this condition affirms that this entity [Israel] does not act in a humanitarian way. This is just another one of many Israeli war crimes,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official also said that while he believes Israel’s position “will exacerbate tensions,” it likely “will not lead to a new confrontation.”
Since Israel destroyed the tunnel, Hamas has exercised restraint, holding off from carrying out a reprisal.
Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh said the response to the tunnel demolition should be to advance reconciliation efforts.
If Hamas allows for renewed round of conflict with Israel, reconciliation efforts will likely collapse. Reconciliation efforts last fell apart when the 2014 Gaza war broke out.