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Israeli army uncovers tunnel in southern Gaza after detention of Hamas member

May 5, 2016 2:11 P.M. (Updated: May 6, 2016 1:59 P.M.)
A photograph shared by the Israeli army shows an excavator reportedly uncovering a tunnel near the borderline between Gaza and Israel on May 5, 2016.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli army said on Thursday that it had uncovered a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, as tensions escalated in the besieged Palestinian enclave in the past several days.

In a statement released on Thursday evening, the army said the tunnel was located after it detained a Hamas operative, which it identified as 29-year-old Jabalia resident Mahmoud Atuna, in April after he reportedly crossed into Israel.

“Following combined efforts of intelligence and ground forces, the IDF (Israeli army) has uncovered an additional offensive tunnel adjacent to the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.

“No one should be living in fear of being attacked in their home by terrorists infiltrating from underground,” the statement quoted spokesman Peter Lerner as saying. “The IDF is determined to maintain the safety and stability of the area and will continue to use all means necessary to target Hamas’ terror activities.”

The Israeli army said Atuna was part of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, and confessed to having planned to attack Israeli soldiers when he was detained.

Atuna gave the Israeli army “detailed information regarding tunnel trajectory in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas’ construction methods, and how Hamas utilized private homes and public institutions to hide the tunnels,” the army statement said.

The statement added that Atuna also named a number of fellow Hamas members, and that an indictment has been filed against him in the Beer Sheba court.

Hamas has yet to publicly comment on Atuna or the tunnel uncovered on Thursday.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that the tunnel “appeared to be crossing into Israeli territory,” but that the information had yet to be confirmed by Israeli forces were on the ground. She added that the tunnel had not been uncovered by Israeli airstrikes which took place in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday night.

Earlier on Thursday morning, eyewitnesses told Ma'an that Israeli forces were leveling land near the southern Gaza border east of Rafah City with two Israeli bulldozers and three military trench diggers and proceeded to level and dig a tract of land. The army spokesperson said she could not confirm whether this report was linked to the search for the tunnel.

The discovery of the tunnel came as Israeli forces launched a series of airstrikes and shellings across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and Thursday, in response to several mortars fired from the Palestinian territory at Israeli soldiers.

In April, the Israeli army revealed that it had uncovered a tunnel crossing from the Gaza Strip into Israel, the first to be found since Israel's devastating military offensive on the coastal enclave in 2014.

There have been reports in recent months that Hamas has expanded its tunnel network -- used mainly for military purposes in the northern Gaza Strip and smuggling in the south -- since Israel's 2014 offensive on Gaza left much of it destroyed.

Israeli officials have accused Hamas of "preparing" for another war with Israel and have threatened retaliatory measures against the Gaza Strip as a whole. However, despite Hamas' inflammatory rhetoric against Israel, the movement has not officially claimed responsibility for any military action from Gaza against Israel since the 2014 war.

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