Israel’s military said it found another tunnel on Thursday burrowed from Gaza into Israeli territory, the second in three weeks as officials revealed the arrest last month of a Hamas operative who had disclosed “much information” about the group’s digging.
The Israeli effort to find tunnels from Gaza, which Hamas considers a strategic asset, has led to a flare-up of violence along the border in recent days.
Hamas militants have fired at Israeli forces along the border for the first time since a cease-fire brokered by Egypt ended 50 days of fierce fighting in the summer of 2014. The Israelis responded with tank fire and airstrikes.
Medical officials in Gaza said that a Palestinian woman, identified as Zayna Al-Amur, 55, was killed by Israeli shelling in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
The Hamas operative under arrest, Mahmoud Atawneh, 29, was detained in early April after he crossed the border fence into Israel armed with two knives, according to Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency.
The Shin Bet announcement fueled speculation over whether Israel’s recent success in detecting tunnels was the result of a tip, rather than some unique technological breakthrough as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had suggested last month.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that the newly discovered tunnel, found in the southern part of the border area between Gaza and Israel on Thursday morning, was more than 90 feet underground.
Its detection, Colonel Lerner said, resulted from what he described as a combination of technology, intelligence, engineering and operational activities. He declined to elaborate on the technology, telling reporters,
“It is a secret that is best well kept.”
Hamas fired mortar rounds toward Israeli forces operating along the border for a second day on Thursday, causing no casualties. Israel said it had carried out airstrikes overnight and on Thursday against more than a dozen targets in the northern and southern part of Gaza, describing them as
“Hamas terrorist infrastructure sites”
and “Hamas military posts”.
They were apparently uninhabited at the time.
Israeli analysts said that the exchanges of fire seemed intended to warn rather than kill, and to re-establish “red lines” or boundaries, on both sides.
During a visit to the military’s Gaza Division on Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said,
“We will not be deterred by Hamas’s threats, and we will continue our activity in the face of the breach of our sovereignty until we find and expose the last of the tunnels”.
Mr. Yaalon said Hamas opened fire on the Israelis, and that Israel would
“continue to respond with force to every provocation by Hamas so that the escalation will not occur.”
A senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said in a statement late Wednesday that Hamas fighters had acted against the Israeli forces
“to prevent their bulldozers”
from any effort to impose new realities in the border area, and that Hamas had contacted Egyptian officials for help in restoring the cease-fire.
Colonel Lerner said that Israeli forces have been operating within 100 yards on the Gazaside of the border fence, and that the military’s operations within that limited area had been accepted in the past.
Hamas’s decision to shoot, he said, was likely the result of the militant group’s worry that the Israelis were “closing in” on its tunnel network.
Israel said it had destroyed 32 tunnels by the end of the 2014 war, which left more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead. Nearly a dozen of those tunnels ran beneath the border into Israeli territory, according to Israeli officials, and Hamas used some to carry out ambushes against Israeli forces.
Israeli officials fear that Hamas could also try to use the tunnels to attack Israeli border villages.
It was not immediately clear when the tunnel discovered on Thursday had been dug. The military said it would continue investigating over the next few days.
Mr. Atawneh, the Hamas operative in Israeli custody, provided his interrogators with detailed information about the routes of tunnels in northern Gaza, Hamas’s operating methods and how it uses private houses and institutions for the purpose of concealing tunnel-digging, Shin Bet said in a statement.
He also told his interrogators that the network of tunnels includes rooms for resting, fitted with showers, and dining areas in order to improve the conditions for Hamas’s underground fighters.