JERUSALEM: The Israeli military discovered a tunnel Thursday stretching from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, built by Palestinian militants to carry out attacks on Israel, the military said.
The military announced the discovery amid a new escalation in violence with Gaza militants. Earlier Thursday, the military said it launched airstrikes on four Hamas targets in response to mortar rounds fired at Israel. Fighting in recent days is among some of the most serious instances of violence between Gaza and Israel since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.
Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk said Egypt and Qatar have intervened to try to restore calm.
Last month, Israel discovered and destroyed another tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel. The two tunnels are the first to be found since the 2014 Gaza war, sparking concerns in Israel that Hamas is rebuilding its underground tunnel network in preparation for another conflagration. Toward the end of the 2014 war, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels Hamas had dug under the border. Hamas militants had used the tunnels to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.
The tunnel found Thursday is about 29 meters (95 feet) underground, the army said, and it is unclear whether it is a newly dug tunnel or an older tunnel Israel had hit and that had been repaired. It was discovered by soldiers on the Gaza side of the border fence in a 100-meter zone that Israel operates in. Israeli forces are still operating in that zone on the Gaza side of the border fence, the army said.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an army spokesman, said Hamas militants may have fired toward soldiers because they realized Israel was closing in on its tunnel.
“It is our job to locate them and destroy them,” Lerner said about border tunnels. “Hamas is continuing to try to carry out and build this infrastructure into Israel and it’s something we are not prepared to tolerate.”
After Israel announced the discovery of the tunnel, more mortar rounds were fired at Israeli troops along the Gaza border fence, the military said. No injuries were reported. Israel’s military responded with tank fire.
Earlier Thursday, the military said it had hit “terrorist infrastructure sites” belonging to Hamas, the Islamic militant group which rules Gaza. The Gaza Health Ministry said three children and a 65-year-old Palestinian suffered light-to-moderate injuries in an airstrike that hit a metal workshop in Gaza City.
Workshop owner Hassan Hassanin said his well-digging truck, which he said was only one in Gaza that can reach a depth of 37 meters (121 feet), was hit.
“Why this was bombed? I don’t know why. I don’t pose any threat to Israel’s security. Israel itself knows this machine, what does it do and what its capabilities are. It doesn’t pose any danger to security,” he said.
Palestinian media said an Islamic Jihad militant group outpost was also targeted.
Israel struck five other Hamas targets Wednesday, responding to a mortar shell launched toward Israeli forces near the Gaza Strip. The army said no soldiers were harmed.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. In a 50-day war in the summer of 2014, more than 2,200 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them civilians, were killed, and on the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and seven civilians were killed.
Israel and Hamas have largely observed a cease-fire since the 2014 war, but other militant groups also operate in Gaza. Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for any attacks out of the territory.
The escalation comes amid a months-long wave of violence that has seen near-daily attacks by Palestinians, mostly stabbings, which have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Some 193 Palestinians have been killed, most said by Israel to have been attackers and the rest killed in clashes with Israeli forces.