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Israel destroys tunnel extending from central Gaza into Israel

Israeli officers stand at the entrance to a tunnel said to have been used by Palestinian militants for cross-border attacks from the Gaza Strip on July 25, 2014
JACK GUEZ (POOL/AFP/File)
IDF called the discovery of the tunnel a 'blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty'

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) said on Monday that it had bombed an underground attack tunnel originating in the Khan Yunis area of the central Gaza Strip that extended into Israeli territory.

The Israeli army said in a statement that the tunnel was discovered on the Israeli side of the Gaza border fence using new advanced detection technologies and was subsequently "neutralized."

The health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave reported that seven Palestinians were killed and several wounded when the tunnel was destroyed. Among them were high-ranking members of Islamic Jihad, the group that reportedly built the tunnel, and Hamas, according to media reports. 

Media reports said separate factions in Gaza were holding an emergency session to discuss the situation.

"I have told you many times that we are developing breakthrough technology to deal with the tunnel threat," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction. "We are implementing it. Today we located a tunnel and destroyed it, and we will continue to do so. We see Hamas as responsible for any attempt to attempt to violate sovereignty that emanates from its territory by people subject to its authority, and we will continue to protect Israel's borders."

The announcement came following Palestinian media reports of Israeli strikes in Khan Yunis. The IDF initially responded to those reports saying it had carried out a “controlled demolition,” but IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus later clarified that the military would not comment on what munitions were used.

Palestinian sources in Gaza confirmed to the Haaretz daily that the operation to destroy the tunnel was carried out by the Israeli air force.

The Iron Dome missile defense system was deployed to Israel's south ahead of the operation, Haaretz reported.

The military said that the tunnel had been under surveillance for some time and that it was under active construction, indicating it was not left over from the vast tunnel network operated by the Hamas terrorist group during its last war with Israel.

The IDF said that the tunnel's opening was at least two kilometers away from the closest Israeli community of Kissufim, and did not pose a threat to residents.

The army called the tunnel's discovery "a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty and a situation that cannot be accepted."

"The IDF will continue to use all measures at its disposal above and below the 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," the army said, referring to the 50-day conflict fought between Israel and Hamas in 2014.

It was not immediately confirmed whether or not the tunnel belonged to Hamas, the ruling authority in the Gaza Strip, but Israel said it nevertheless holds the Islamist movement responsible for all such activity from the Palestinian enclave.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was expected to address the issue of Gaza's underground tunnel network at the beginning of his faction meeting.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz congratulated the IDF on the discovery of the "tunnel of Palestinian terror" and warned that "those who threaten Israel from the air, land, and underground will pay the full price."

This is a developing story.

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