6 militants killed as Israel blows up Gaza tunnel, armed groups vow retaliation
Six Palestinian militants have been killed as Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) blew up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel’s territory. The killings provoked fierce reaction from Palestinian armed groups who vowed to respond.
The army “neutralized a terror tunnel leading into southern Israel from the vicinity of Khan Younis,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters, referring to a city in the southern Gaza Strip.
He said the tunnel was blown up in a “controlled explosion” from the Israeli territory.
“The tunnel was detonated from within Israel, close to the security fence,” the spokesman said. He also called the IDF’s actions a response to a “grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
The tunnel that was still under construction, went deep into pre-1967 Israeli territory and posed a serious security threat, according to another Israeli military official, Brigadier General Ronen Manelis as reported by Israeli media.
Palestinian armed groups said, in total, six militants were killed as a result of the explosion. The militant Islamic Jihad group said four of its members who were at the tunnel at the moment of the blast were among the dead. They include the head of its armed wing in Central Gaza and his senior associate.
Hamas said two of its members lost their lives while trying to rescue Islamic Jihad members who were in the tunnel, Reuters reports. Nine people were injured in the incident, the news agency said, citing Gaza health officials.
The Palestinian armed groups then pledged to retaliate against Israel. An Islamic Jihad spokesman called the demolition of “a tunnel of the resistance a terrorist aggression,” and said the militant factions reserve the right to respond “at the suitable time.”
Hamas called the Israeli operation a “dangerous escalation against our people” and “a desperate attempt to sabotage efforts to restore Palestinian unity,” the Times of Israel reported. The group said further that it would continue to “resist the occupation” in “all forms and through the use of various tools.”
Israeli officials praised the IDF’s actions as a sign of Israel’s technological advancement and its military capabilities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party Monday that Israel is developing “groundbreaking technology to deal with the tunnel threat” but provided no further details.
He said Israel will "harm whoever will try to harm us,” as cited by the Jerusalem Post.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the successful operation “a result of high operational capabilities and also a significant technological breakthrough, which allows us to deal with the tunnel threat much better.”
He then blamed Hamas, stopping short of directly accusing the group of digging the tunnel. “The Gaza Strip remains a terrorist kingdom,” Liberman said.
“The IDF does not intend to escalate the situation but stands prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Conricus said, adding that the Israeli military assume that there could be other tunnels in the area.
“The IDF will will keep taking all measures needed over and under the ground to thwart attempts to harm the residents of the State of Israel and to keep the area quiet, as it was after the Pillar of Defense operation,” the Israeli military said, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.
In mid-October Netanyahu lashed out against the reconciliation deal reached between rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah. He particularly claimed that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will now be “much harder to achieve.”
The UN has meanwhile blasted Tel Aviv's actions in the occupied Palestinian territories. "Israel's role as occupier in the Palestinian Territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza – has crossed a red line into illegality," said the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk. The world body also recently included some of the biggest Israeli and international firms operating in the occupied areas on a blacklist of those violating “international law and UN resolutions."