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Hamas fighter dies in Gaza tunnel collapse

April 17, 2017 12:15 P.M. (Updated: April 17, 2017 6:36 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A Palestinian affiliated with the military wing of the Hamas movement died in a tunnel collapse in the besieged Gaza Strip on Monday morning.

The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, identified the fighter in a statement as Anas Abu Shawish, a 20-year-old resident of the al-Tuffah neighborhood of Gaza City.

The brigades did not provide further details on the circumstances of the tunnel collapse, nor where the tunnel was located.

Scores of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the vast tunnel networks that lie below the besieged enclave, which are largely used for smuggling in the south and military purposes in the north.

According to Ma’an documentation, at least nine Palestinians have been killed and ten injured in tunnels so far this year -- with two Palestinians killed in what Hamas said was an Israeli airstrike, a claim the Israeli army denied.

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.

While the tunnels along the southern border with Egypt are used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply highly demanded necessities for Gazans -- who have been trapped under Israeli siege for a decade -- including food, medicine, and much-needed infrastructure materials.

Before the July 2013 ouster of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt had provided a vital lifeline for the small Palestinian territory.

Since Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi came to power, however, Egypt has strictly enforced the blockade and flooded hundreds of the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai Peninsula against anti-regime militants launching attacks on Egyptian police and military personnel.

The Institute for Palestine Studies reported in 2012 that Hamas authorities had counted 160 deaths inside the tunnels since the Israeli blockade began in 2007, and in August 2014, Al-Jazeera reported that figure to be as high as 400.

The majority of the nearly two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to the continuation of the military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.

The destruction from three Israeli offensives since 2008, including damage to the enclave’s water, sanitation, energy, and medical facilities, coupled with slow reconstruction due to the blockade, led the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
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