Hamas terror operatives in Gaza tunnel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip on Friday said that five more of its members, who were previously thought to be missing, died when Israel destroyed a cross-border tunnel earlier this week, raising the number of deceased in the incident to 12.
Islamic Jihad said that the five militants had been digging the tunnel leading into Israeli territory “for years.” In the 2014 Gaza war, Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants used tunnels to wage attacks against Israel. “We announce that five heroes from the al-Quds Brigades have risen to heaven,” the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, said in a statement.
The group’s statement came after Israel denied authorities in Gaza immediate access to the Gaza-Israel border area, where the militants were thought to be located. Israel controls a buffer zone near its frontier with the Strip.
Earlier this week, 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 five militants in the border region.
Following a conversation between the Red Cross chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories Jacques De-Maio and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the latter 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 conditioned the launching of talks on Israel's agreement to release tens of prisoners, who were rearrested after being set free in a 2011 prisoner exchange.
View from Gaza as IDF blows up Hamas tunnel reaching into Israeli territory, October 30, 2017. (Courtesy)
In its statement, the al-Quds Brigades also said that the demolition of the trans-border tunnel earlier this week “will not dissuade us from continuing our work,” but rather that it will “motivate us to continue to develop this deterring weapon [tunnels].”
Islamic Jihad officials have said that they hope cross-border tunnels will enable their members to kidnap Israeli soldiers, who they would like to return to Israel in exchange for Palestinian prisoners
Later on Friday, a symbolic funeral was held in Deir al-Balah for the five militants. Photos of the funeral procession show at least hundreds walking in the middle of the Gazan town’s streets.