JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Sunday it destroyed a tunnel built by the Hamas militant group.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the new tunnel was intended to connect to an old one that Israel partially destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip during the 2014 war, in what appears to be the first case of Hamas trying to “recycle” part of its devastated network.
Conricus said Israel has been following Hamas’ progress for some time and that the targeted tunnels will now be impossible to rebuild. Conricus called it a “futile effort” by the Islamic militants and a waste of resources that could be used to aid Gaza residents. The coastal territory had been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took over in 2007.
Israel has placed a high priority on halting the tunnel threat since Hamas infiltrated Israel during the 2014 war. Although they did not manage to reach civilian areas, the infiltrations caught Israel off guard, with one attack killing five soldiers, and terrified the local population.
This marks the fourth such tunnel Israel has destroyed over the past four months. The operation followed Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza over the weekend in response to bombs planted along the border that were detonated in an attempt to harm Israeli troops.
“Hamas has invested billions in its tunnel project and now it is sinking in the sand,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. “I suggest Hamas invest its money in the welfare of the people of Gaza because by the end of the year its entire tunnel project will be destroyed.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the Israeli action a further escalation that would not achieve its goals.
Israel has been hard at work erecting an ambitious subterranean barrier to detect and prevent attack tunnels. Israeli military officials say the secretive project will be a major deterrent against what Israel has seen as a strategic threat since the last war against Hamas.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. During the most recent conflict in 2014, Israel destroyed 32 tunnels.