In a statement delivered by his spokesperson, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday that he was "alarmed" by the recent statements from the Hamas leadership in Gaza stating their intention to continue building tunnels and firing rockets at Israel.

"Such statements and actions put at risk reconstruction, humanitarian and development efforts by the international community and Palestinian and Israeli authorities," Ban said. "They also do a serious disservice to the long-suffering people of Gaza."

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The secretary-general added that "after three major conflicts in the past seven years, people in Gaza and the people of southern Israel deserve a chance for peace and development."


He also reiterated that he condemns terrorism "in all its manifestations" and added that every effort must be made to improve the living conditions of the people of Gaza.

During a funeral for seven Palestinian Hamas operatives who were killed when a tunnel they were digging had collapsed on them earlier this week, senior official Ismail Haniyeh vowed on Friday that the Islamist organization will continue in building its network of underground passages.

“The Hamas military wing will continue with its preparations both underground and above ground,” the former prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said. “On land and at sea, we will not stop until the liberation of the holy places [in Jerusalem].”

Hamas announced on Thursday that seven members of its military wing, Izzadin Kassam, were killed when a tunnel collapsed.

The announcement came 24 hours after Hamas said that it had lost contact with 11 who were working inside a tunnel.

The seven men were identified as Thabet al-Rifi, Ghazwan al-Shobaki, Izzadin Kassam, Mahmoud Bassal, Jaafar Hamadeh, Nidal Odeh and Wassim Hassuneh.

Hamas said that another four of its men survived the tunnel collapse.

A statement released by Izzadin Kassam in the Gaza Strip said that one of its units was carrying out reconstruction work at the tunnel east of Gaza City when it collapsed on Tuesday night as a result of the weather conditions.

The statement said that the seven men had “participated in heroic and qualitative operations” during the last war with Israel. It said that Hamas would not have been able to inflict pain on Israel were it not for the men involved in digging the tunnels.

Following the incident, Hamas officials issued instructions to Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip warning them against publishing details about the identity of the men working in the tunnels or the groups they belong to.

The officials also criticized the rival Fatah faction for mocking the smuggling tunnels.

Fatah-affiliated websites reacted to the collapse by denouncing Hamas leaders as “merchants of war who know nothing about life other than burying their youths in the sand.”

Hamas officials said that they were “proud that hundreds of our men are working quietly to prepare for defending and protecting our people over and under the ground.”

“The Gaza Strip has built twice the number of resistance tunnels that were built in Vietnam, a subject which is studied in military schools,” Haniyeh said on Friday. “The military wing has built tunnels around Gaza in order to defend it and to liberate the al-Aksa mosque and the holy places.”

Haniyeh said on Friday that Hamas would also continue its efforts to perfect rocket and missile fire.

“In eastern Gaza, heroes are digging tunnels underground, and in western Gaza heroes above ground are conducting test launches of rockets,” Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh said that the armed factions in Gaza are preparing for the next round of fighting with Israel.

“The military wing and the other resistance groups continue with their preparations as part of their obligation both above ground and underneath,” he said. “Today, Gaza bids farewell to martyrs of the preparation who worked underground along the path to liberation.”

Haniyeh said that the participation of thousands at the funerals of the seven men served as a referendum on the Islamist group, which he claimed has managed to successfully cope with the Israeli siege on the territory.

“Hamas has managed to overcome its weaknesses thanks to will and determination,” he said. “We will continue to conduct our preparations, and nobody will stop us.”

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.

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