Cleared for Publication: Israel Nabbed Hamas Operative Who Provided Intel About Gaza Tunnels

Mortar shells fired from Gaza toward Israeli forces after Israel discovered tunnel; IDF responds with tank fire.

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A Hamas tunnel found in April, with an inset photograph of Hamas operative Mahmoud Atawa.
A Hamas tunnel found in April, with an inset photograph of Hamas operative Mahmoud Atawa.Credit: IDF Spokesman, Shin Bet

A Hamas member was arrested by Israel last month after crossing the border fence with two knives, the Shin Bet revealed on Thursday. According to the Shin Bet, the operative, Mahmoud Atawa, provided information about Hamas tunnels.

Atawa also spoke about the techniques used in digging the tunnels, the digging sites and tunnel shafts that were meant to serve "Nakba" operatives, Hamas' special forces trained for fighting within Israeli territory.

The Shin Bet believes that Atawa planned on killing either soldiers or civilians encountered in Israel, using the knives. The indictment against him, which was filed in a Be'er Sheva court, alleges that on April 6, after acquiring two 20-centimeter (8-inch) knives, he asked a cab driver to take him from the Gazan town of Rafah to the Israeli border. At about 10 P.M. that night, the indictment states, he began climbing the border fence and after getting about 20 meters (65 feet) beyond the fence, he was spotted by two Israeli soldiers, who arrested him. He was then said to have been turned over for interrogation by the Shin Bet security service.

Among the many incidents in which Palestinians are apprehended crossing into Israel from Gaza, Atawa's case is unusual. The numbers of those entering Israel have grown since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza. Several hundred people are thought to have arrested crossing the border, but most are found to be unarmed and are interrogate and returned to Gaza or are tried on charges of infiltration.

An IDF tank during the 2014 war in Gaza.Credit: Elihau Hershkovitz

During Atawa's interrogation, however, his affiliation with Hamas became apparent. He is said to have been recruited in 2006 and to have received military training in the use of rocket-propelled grenades. In the course of his Hamas activities, he would conduct armed patrols along the border to provide warning of an IDF attack on the Gaza Strip, it is alleged.

Between 2007 and 2010, he was involved for several months and on a number of occasions in digging tunnels, the indictment states. He is also alleged to have agreed to store explosives charges, explosive belts, rocket-propelled grenades and a motorbike for Hamas.

He is charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, weapons offenses, infiltration and other security-related crimes. The prosecution is seeking to extend his detention until the end of proceedings.

Websites associated with Fatah reported last month that a senior member of Hamas' tunnel unit turned himself in to Israel. Hamas denied the reports at the time and tried to distance itself from the man, saying he was a civilian who crossed the fence into Israel.

In other developments, five mortar shells were fired at Israeli forces near the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, hours after Israel discovered a second tunnel extending from Gaza to Israel. Israel first responded with tank fire, and later with aerial strikes. The Palestinians reported that a woman was killed in the attack and a man was moderately wounded.

According to Palestinian reports, the woman was 53-year-old Zeina Al-Amour, who died in an IDF attack in the area of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. She was killed by fragments from artillery fire at the Al-Fahuri neighborhood east of the town, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israel and Hamas said on Thursday that Egypt was mediating a restoration of a 2014 truce after two days of cross-border violence in which three Palestinian chiidlren were also wounded.

Israel launched four airstrikes early on Thursday targeting Hamas training camps after accusing Hamas of firing "more than five mortar rounds at forces during operational activities adjacent to the security fence with the Gaza Strip."

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