Israel Seeks to Bar Hamas From Searching Gaza Attack Tunnel for Missing Bodies

The tunnel was destroyed after Israel discovered it leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory

A Palestinian security force member loyal to Hamas searching for missing or dead militants after Israel blew up a cross-border tunnel, in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip Nov 3, 2017

In response to a high court petition seeking to allow Hamas to search for members of Islamic Jihad who were trapped when Israel blew up a tunnel under the border with Gaza last week, the Israeli government has said the army is still at work in the area.

In a response filed with the High Court of Justice on Sunday, the government said Israeli army forces are still carrying out work related to the tunnel and letting Hamas to conduct a search "that could endanger" the forces. The nature of the work being carried out is confidential, the state said. A hearing on the petition is scheduled for Monday.

The Israeli army blew up the tunnel that Islamic Jihad had dug under the Gaza-Israel border into Israeli territory last week. Seven Islamic Jihad members were killed in the explosion. Five others were initially said to be trapped, but Islamic Jihad later announced that they too had died.

The petition seeking to allow Hamas to search for the bodies of the missing was filed on Thursday by the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and by the father of one of those who had been trapped in the tunnel. In its response, the state said the petition was irrelevant after Hamas declared that the five missing had died and after the search for them was halted. The state added that it was pursuing confidential contacts with the Red Cross, which had also asked to allow a search to be carried out. The government also took the position in its response that the petition pertains to matters involving Israeli foreign affairs and defense that the courts should not interfere with.

The petitioners are seeking to have the Israeli government allow Hamas, which has overall control of the Gaza Strip, to enter a buffer zone that Palestinians are barred ordinarily barred entering to search for the missing. The families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Golden, two Israeli soldiers who were killed in Gaza during fighting there in 2014 and whose bodied are being held by Hamas, are demanding that the government refuse the request.

The Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, has said that Israel would not allow such a search by Hamas as long as there is no progress in the recovery of the bodies and the return of Israeli citizens who have gone missing after they crossed into Gaza.