A strike by the Israeli Air Force on Saturday night destroyed a 180 meter long terror tunnel below the Gaza Strip, the IDF spokesperson confirmed on Sunday morning.
“This is a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty, endangering the citizens of Israel and sabotaging the humanitarian efforts that Israel is making for the citizens of Gaza,” read a statement by the IDF.
Israel denied claims the tunnel was used for smuggling of goods, asserting it was intended by Hamas to bring terrorists and weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip for a possible future combined attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side.
The target struck was a tunnel that passed below the Kerem Shalom crossing . The tunnel also passed beneath several strategic targets, such as a gas pipe. It was completely destroyed by the strike.
On Saturday night the IDF announced it would be closing the Kerem Shalom crossing after an assessment of the current security situation, but did not provide further details.
"The terrorist organization Hamas is responsible for everything happening in and out of the Gaza Strip," an IDF statement said.
The tunnel destroyed early Sunday morning is believed to have been a Hamas tunnel which stretched for almost a kilometer running under the Kerem Shalom crossing near the gas pipeline and continued into Egyptian territory. The destruction of the tunnel was carried out by the Southern Command, in the area of the Kerem Shalom crossing area, inside Israeli territory.
Hamas terror tunnel destoyed by the IDF [IDF spokesperson office]
The army stated that the tunnel had been identified and destroyed by a combination of advanced technology, intelligence and operational capability. It had been studied and investigated until it was neutralized early Sunday morning.
On Saturday night the IDF announced it would be closing the Kerem Shalom crossing after an assessment of the current security situation.
According to the military, the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing was a necessary security measure for those in the crossing area and while the consequences of the closure would be felt in the Strip, “the Hamas terror organization repeatedly chooses to harm the welfare of Gaza residents.”
PA Civil Affairs Ministry Spokesman Walid Wahdan criticized Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing.
“We do not believe it was necessary to close this vital crossing from which all our people in the Gaza Strip benefit,” he said in a phone call.
The PA Civil Affairs Ministry is in charge of coordinating civil affairs in the West Bank and Gaza with Israeli authorities.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman commented on the strike, saying that the destruction of the tunnel was an “essential component” of Israel’s policy.
"We performed a professional and precise [military] action. The destruction of the terror tunnel network is an essential component of our systematic policy to harm Hamas's strategic capabilities. Our message to the Gazan leadership and residents of the strip is clear: invest in the sanctity of life and not in death tunnels."
The head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, visited the site of the tunnel Sunday morning where he met with the head of Eshkol Regional Council Gadi Yarkoni and briefed him on the event.
"The terror tunnel that traversed the Kerem Shalom crossing harms first and foremost the residents of the Gaza Strip," Zamir said, adding that the IDF is “determined to continue the effort to thwart terror tunnels and to act in any way to defend the residents of the Gaza vicinity and the State of Israel.”
Israel accuses Hamas of continuing to invest significant amounts of manpower and money into their tunnel system, which has been described as a “metro system” of three different kinds of tunnels.
The tunnels - including some which run under residential buildings - include smuggling tunnels with Egypt, tunnels inside the Strip used for command centers and weapons storage, and offensive tunnels used for cross-border attacks in Israel.
Israel’s military has been investing extensive effort in locating cross-border tunnels from Gaza and has been building a ground-breaking underground barrier across the entire border with the Hamas-run enclave.
IDF forces are believed to have destroyed four terror tunnels since late October, targeting one in October, one in December, and two in January.
The military said on Sunday that it does not intend to bring about an escalation of the situation, but will continue to act against any violation of Israeli sovereignty.
“The IDF will continue to use all the measures at its disposal, above and below ground, to thwart attempts to harm the residents of the State of Israel and to maintain the relative quiet in the area achieved after Operation Protective Edge.”Tamar Ben Ozer, Avraham Gold and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.