Only a few weeks after the Israeli army discovered a tunnel running across the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Hamas' military wing revealed on Saturday a unit that specializes in digging offensive tunnels.
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A report by an Al-Jazeera correspondent, who was taken into one of the tunnels, apparently comes in response to Israel's discovery of a tunnel network and the ensuing damage to Hamas' infrastructure. The television report was aired on the one-year anniversary of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.
The report revealed some of the methods used by the unit. It showed Hamas operatives digging a tunnel and preparing infrastructure for launching rockets from below ground.
The video report showed operatives using ordinary tools in their work, but the tunnel is also equipped with electricity, which is used to light the facility and power the electric jackhammers used to dig through packed soil or rock.
Still, most of the digging is done in soft soil or sand, so the main risk faced by the operatives is the tunnel's collapse. To prevent this, the excavators line the tunnel with concrete slabs. Sand removal also seems to be a complicated task. Digging is done at a slow pace so that the sand may be removed and scattered elsewhere without attracting attention.
One operative said that the members of the unit can remain underground for several weeks without being detected.
Israel's success in demolishing some of the tunnels would not affect Hamas' capabilities, a spokesman for the movement's military wing said, adding that since Hamas was in a continuous conflict was Israel, it was inevitable that Israel would make some gains.
According to Ubaida, Israel often reports that it has demolished tunnels when actually it has razed civilian structures and fields. He said that the tunnels had proven themselves as a highly effective tool in the conflict with Israel.
Israeli officials claim that Hamas' tunnel activity has been hit hard in recent months both in IDF operations and in Egypt's crackdown along Gaza's southern border, where tunnels are used to smuggle arms, fuel and construction supplies.
Egypt blames Gaza-based groups cooperating with armed Islamists in the Sinai Peninsula.
Last month, Hamas claimed responsibility for a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) tunnel uncovered by Israeli forces along the Gaza frontier. Military officials said that the tunnel was wide and could easily have been used to abduct Israeli soldiers, as Palestinian militants did with Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier, in June 2006.
Israel responded by halting the transfer of building material to Gaza.
Over the weekend, Hamas held military parades in the Gaza Strip to mark a year since Operation Pillar of Defense. Hamas leaders made bellicose statements against Israel. Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’s political wing, was conspicuous in his absence: He sent no statement and made no appearance before the crowd via video or audio, as he used to do on similar occasions when Hamas marked the anniversaries of major events.