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Hamas calls Israel's planned subterranean barrier with Gaza a 'declaration of war'

Aug. 10, 2017 10:25 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 12, 2017 3:51 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Following reports that the Israeli army would be expediting its project to build a subterranean barrier along the Israeli border with the besieged Gaza Strip, a Hamas official condemned the move on Thursday, calling the construction of the barrier a “declaration of war.”

Israeli news website Ynet reported on Thursday that in a press briefing along the border, an Israeli army general told reporters that the decision to expedite the subterranean barrier came after “intelligence” that Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, was attempting to expand the network of tunnels underneath Gaza.

The general, Major General Eyal Zamir, reportedly told Ynet that expediting the construction of the barrier was “not intended to see the tenuous ceasefire with Hamas unravel, but that the (Israeli army) would not shy away from another confrontation should Gaza’s rulers choose to launch one.”

“We will turn the tunnels into a death trap in the next war,” Ynet quoted Zamir as saying.

“Whoever is inside these buildings is endangering himself and his children, and this entire building is a legitimate military target and has entered our bank of objective,” Zamir said, referring to two residential buildings and a mosque, under which entrances to tunnels have allegedly been built.

An unnamed Hamas official reportedly told Israeli newspaper Israel Today that the barrier “is another step to escalate the siege on Gaza,” stressing that “Hamas will not allow Israel to conduct its plans and crimes against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and will prevent the construction of the barrier with all possible means.”

“The Israeli army will be faced by a harsh response from Hamas,” the official reportedly added.

According to Ynet, the barrier is to be of concrete, and will reach “dozens of meters” below ground, and be topped above ground with a six-meter “security fence above ground.”

“Together, the high-tech and concrete barriers will be able to detect and destroy every tunnel identified as it approaches,” Ynet said.

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.

The majority of the 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 to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

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