JERUSALEM— Israel says it has thwarted a major terrorist attack by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israel says it has uncovered a large "terror tunnel" stretching from the Gaza Strip, 400 meters into Israeli territory. Army spokesman Peter Lerner said the sophisticated tunnel was dug by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza.
“What all of this actually means is that, first of all, Gaza terrorists under Hamas are constantly operating to prepare more attacks; so clearly there’s an immediate danger that could have been posed by this tunnel," said Lerner.
The army has found several Gaza tunnels fortified in concrete over the past six months, which could have enabled a large number of Palestinian gunmen to infiltrate into Israel. Lieutenant-Colonel Lerner says the tunnel just exposed is the biggest one yet.
“We feel that this type of tunnel would have been used in two main scenarios: either to carry out a substantial terrorist attack, meaning mass murder in one of the Israeli communities adjacent to the opening, or to have abducted a soldier or something to this effect," he said.
In 2006, Hamas gunmen tunneled into Israel and captured an Israeli soldier, holding him for more than five years in Gaza. Israel finally freed more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to win the captive soldier’s release.
Hamas admitted that it dug the latest tunnel, but rejected Israel’s claim that good intelligence led to its discovery.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, said the tunnel was exposed because of heavy rains, and he described Israeli claims of good intelligence as a “big lie.”
Hamas is an Islamist group committed to armed struggle against Israel, and it has vowed to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to win the release of Palestinian prisoners. So despite uncovering the tunnel, Israel is not resting on its laurels. The army fears that many more Gaza tunnels have not been discovered.