ARCHIVE - Gaza - AFP
ARCHIVE - Smoke billows after Israeli air strikes near smuggling tunnels between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt, on November 21, 2012 in Rafah. Photo by AFP
Text size
related tags

A precision operation was carried out by the IDF Thursday evening in the Gaza Strip near the border fence, aimed at destroying a tunnel used for terrorist activities which was discovered last month near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

The special operation combat engineering unit Yahalom, combined with infantry from the Golani Brigade and tanks from the 401st Armored Brigade, participated in the operation under the command of Col. Amos Hacohen.

The group's mission was to plant explosives in the tunnel, some 15 meters to the west of the Gaza border, and destroy it. Engineering forces began using a drilling vehicle to reach the tunnel when at 10:38 P.M. the drill hit an explosive device that included diesel fuel, setting off a shock wave that injured five soldiers.

Six IDF soldiers took part in the operation, including three officers. Two of the injured soldiers were evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva for medical treatment on Thursday, and one other soldier was taken to the hospital Friday after he was lightly injured in operation but continued participating in the mission. After the explosive device was set off, IDF forces noticed two Palestinians who were standing a kilometer away. The two appeared to be carrying anti-tank weapons and were identified as spotters, according to a senior IDF officer. IDF troops fired toward the two, killing one and wounding the other.

After the wounded were evacuated from the area, IDF forces decided to continue the operation and blew up the tunnel. Some 2,800 kilograms of explosives were placed about one hundred meters west of the border fence were and detonated around 4 A.M. on Friday, collapsing the tunnel. A short while later, an Israel Air Force plane bombed the entrance to the tunnel at a hothouse in the area of Khan Yunis, a distance of some 1,700 meters from the Gaza border fence. The IDF reported that three Palestinians were killed in the strike. The targets were said to be senior tunnel officials in the area. According to an IDF Southern Command officer, one of the fatalities was the senior-most official in the Khan Yunis region in charge of tunnels and rocket developments.

IDF Southern Command assessed in advance that Hamas would plant explosive devices to hurt soldiers trying to destroy the tunnel. “We assessed that the moment that Hamas found out that we located the tunnel it would plant an explosive device, and we acted with all preparations for such a course of action,” said a Southern Command senior officer. He added that the incident would be studied further.

The officer stated that in the initial part of the operation, a dog or robot was supposed to enter the tunnel to locate explosives devices before the infantry were sent in. Hamas assessed that IDF forces would attempt to reach the tunnel from the Gaza side of the fence and so they chose the spot closest to the fence to plant the explosive device. “Hamas didn't wait for the forces to reach the tunnel, the explosive device was activated by the driller,” the senior officer told journalists. “In the war of the minds, they did everything they could to place an obstacle in front of our forces.” He added that Hamas had expected infantry forces to enter, which would have led to much greater damage and hinted that they might had planned to kidnapped a solder entering the tunnel.

“It should be said that Hamas is in distress, including economically, but instead of using cement to construct building, they use it to build tunnels and last night it appeared that instead of using diesel to fuel their power plant they are using it for explosive devices,” the officer said.

The IAF strike in Khan Yunis and the killing of the four Palestinians is likely to lead to an escalation in hostilities in the area. The IDF has ordered the expanded deployment of Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries as a precaution to protect Israeli communities located close to Gaza. “In all previous rounds, when there were casualties, Hamas responded,” said the senior IDF officer. However, he stated that Hamas had yet to respond and that he believed that they were still deterred by Operation Pillar of Defense the previous year.