Israeli army seeks to destroy all Hamas tunnels ahead of truce

Operation has led to deaths of over 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis

Palestinian children watch a destroyed house after Israeli air strike in  Gaza. Photograph: Epa/Mohammed Saber

Palestinian children watch a destroyed house after Israeli air strike in Gaza. Photograph: Epa/Mohammed Saber

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

With ceasefire efforts now in top gear, the Israeli army is working flat out to locate and destroy all the Hamas tunnels before a truce is imposed.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now in its second week, has resulted in more than 510 fatalities in Gaza and 27 dead in Israel, including 25 soldiers.

The day after fierce clashes in the neighbourhood of Shejaia, on the eastern edge of Gaza city, there was no let-up in the violence yesterday.

Israeli forces killed 10 militants who succeeded in infiltrating into Israel via two separate tunnels dug under the border. The well-armed and camouflaged Hamas fighters were wearing Israeli army uniforms and they managed to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at a military Jeep, killing four soldiers before themselves being killed in an air strike. Three other troops were killed in fighting in Gaza yesterday, including one from friendly fire.

Israeli forces along the border remain on top alert, believing that Hamas will try to launch attacks via tunnels that have still not been discovered by Israeli troops.

Palestinian sources claim five people were killed and 70 injured when Israeli tank shells hit the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

P

riority Overnight, Gaza health officials reported that more than 30 members of two Palestinian families died in Israeli strikes.

Israeli troops pushed further into urban areas as they searched for additional entrances to Hamas tunnels, the military’s priority since troops entered Gaza on Thursday night. According to the Israeli army, 20 Hamas gunmen emerging from tunnels inside Gaza residential areas have been killed over the past two days. In one incident, 10 Hamas gunmen were killed when they emerged from a tunnel opening inside a mosque.

Speaking on Sunday night, Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon estimated that the “lion’s share of militant tunnels” would be destroyed within two to three days.

The Israeli forces have so far uncovered and destroyed 18 full-scale “attack tunnels” designed to exit inside Israel, and found another 45 tunnel openings.

The military claims to have killed 160 Hamas militants since the ground operation began.

According to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, more than 83,000 residents are taking refuge in the organisation’s compounds.

With the arrival in the region of both United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and US secretary of state John Kerry, the final details are being finalised on a new ceasefire deal.

Mr Kerry was expected in Israel last night, after visiting Cairo and meeting with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.

Yesterday Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who is also playing an active role in truce efforts, held talks in Qatar with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

According to unconfirmed reports, Mr Kerry, Mr Ban and Mr Abbas plan to hold a joint news conference in Cairo today to announce a ceasefire, based on Cairo’s original truce proposals from last week but with modifications acceptable to Hamas. The revised draft calls for measures to improve the Gaza economy, with the Palestinian unity government, in conjunction with Washington, guaranteeing the removal of the blockade on Gaza.

Israel is expected to respond positively to a ceasefire proposal but only after the army has completed the job of destroying Hamas tunnels, which may take a few more days.

Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly called for Israel to assassinate Mr Mashaal, who lives in exile in Qatar, saying this was the only way to ensure that further infiltration tunnels from Gaza will not be built in the future.