Israel discovers 2.5km tunnel dug by Gaza militants
Israeli minister orders halt to transfer of building materials to Gaza via Israeli land crossings in move criticised by rights groups
Israeli soldiers stand guard inside a tunnel exposed by the Israeli military near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, just outside the southern Gaza Strip, yesterday. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Security sources said the tunnel, 2.5km long, was dug by Gaza militants who planned to carry out a high-profile attack or kidnap soldiers or civilians.
Over the weekend, troops held extensive checks along the tunnel to dismantle the explosives and locate exit points.
Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement of being behind the tunnel. He ordered a halt to the transfer of building materials to Gaza via Israeli land crossings, a move criticised by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.
For years Israel refused to allow cement and other building materials into Gaza, claiming militants would use them to build fortifications. However the government relented in 2010 in response to mounting international criticism over its blockade.
There was no claim of responsibility in Gaza but a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing said “the determination deep in the hearts and minds of resistance fighters is more important than tunnels dug in the mud”.
Haim Yalin, the head of the regional council for Israeli communities along the Gaza border, said the co-operation between farmers plowing the fields near the border and the army had proven itself.
“The tunnel was exposed in time and a disaster has been averted.” However he criticised the army’s recent decision to reduce the number of troops deployed along the border.
In 2006 militants who entered Israel via a tunnel from Gaza seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before being exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
In a separate development, Israel has arrested two West Bank Palestinians who it says admitted to the murder of settler Sariya Ofer on Friday.